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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release November 7, 1997
                              PRESS BRIEFING
                      ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT AND 

The Briefing Room

1:13 P.M. EST

MR. LOCKHART: Good afternoon, everyone. Before Mike comes out for the regular daily briefing, we are joined by Maria Echaveste, who is the Director of the Office of Public Liaison; and Elena Kagan, the Deputy Director of the Domestic Policy Council. They're going to give us a little rundown of the White House Conference on Hate Crimes, which is scheduled for Monday, give you an outline of what we expect the agenda to be, who will be participating. And they'll be glad to take any questions you have. Thanks.

MS. ECHAVESTE: Good afternoon. Just some background, why we're having the White House Conference on Hate Crimes. As part of our outreach and soliciting input on the President's Initiative on Race, one of the issues that people talked a lot to us about was the existence of hate crimes and what people perceive to be an increase in hate crimes, and this is an issue that we really decided to take a look at.

While a majority of hate crimes seem to be against people of color, there are hate crimes against people based on their beliefs, religious beliefs, sexual orientation. About six months ago the Attorney General put together a working group at the Department of Justice at the President's request to develop recommendations to tackle this problem.

So on Monday we will have this conference. It will be organized as follows. We have over 350 people coming from all over the country. A good portion are law enforcement, state and local officials -- because law enforcement is a very significant partner in trying to combat hate crimes.

We will start off with a breakfast here at the White House that will be closed to the press, and then we will move over to GW, at which point the President will start the conference by making some opening remarks, will be making some announcements. And then he will moderate a panel with seven other individuals that include: a principal from Mamaroneck, New York, who after a series of hate crimes in Mamaroneck, which is a suburb in Westchester County, he organized a community effort to combat; a woman from Montana, who was the subject of anti-Semitic hate crimes and who organized her community to have both Jews and non-Jews put menorahs in their windows to show the community's response against hate crimes.

Fundamentally, this is about being tough on hate crimes. We're drawing a line against hate. There should be no question anywhere around this country that we do not tolerate violence against a person because of what they look like, what they believe in, because of their sexual orientation. There should be a broad consensus, indeed unanimity, that violence against an individual because of an individual's characteristics is wrong.

And so there will be law enforcement and prevention announcements on Monday. After the President's remarks we will then have a series of workshops moderated by members of the Cabinet. We have full participation, beginning with the Attorney General and including people like Secretary Cuomo, Secretary Riley, Secretary Slater; breaking into workshops -- then that will be about an hour and a half -- and then we will have the Attorney General get a report back from each of the moderators in terms of what was discussed and possible actions after the conference.

So why don't I stop there and let Elena talk a little bit about some of the data or statistics and facts that we have regarding hate crimes.

MS. KAGAN: I'll give you a little bit of the data, but I'll warn you first that the data we have, the statistics we have are not all that meaningful, and that's principally because hate crimes, we have every reason to think, are dramatically under-reported. They're under-reported for two reasons: first, because victims themselves are often embarrassed about the crimes or hesitant for other reasons to report them; and second, because under the existing system communities report crimes to the Justice Department in order to get aggregate figures voluntarily. Not all communities do that. There has been a steady increase each year in the number of communities that participate in this reporting system, but we're not yet at a hundred percent, so the statistics that I will give you are almost surely under what is truly happening out there.

And it's also very difficult from these statistics to actually figure out what the trends are, whether there are more hate crimes each year, whether they're staying the same, or whether there are even fewer. The statistics, as you'll see, go up, but it's hard to know whether that's because incidents are increasing or because the reporting is getting better.

But the total number of hate crimes in 1996, hate crime incidents reported, were 8,759. In 1995, it was 7,947. So there is an increase but, again, it's hard to know whether that's an increase in the actual incidents or just better reporting.

In terms of what kinds of crimes these are, the 1996 figures show that racial bias accounts for over 60 percent of the reported hate crimes, precisely 63.13. Religious bias accounts for 13.9 percent. Ethnicity, which is often crimes against people of Hispanic origin, count for 11 percent. And sexual orientation counts for about 12 percent of those crimes. That's a little bit about the statistics.

MS. ECHAVESTE: Questions?

Q Do you anticipate increased penalties for hate crimes as a result of this conference, recommended by the Attorney General?

MS. KAGAN: Well, we're going to have more to say about the announcements that we're going to make on Monday, and I don't want to say now what the President is going to call for, but the President is going to talk about law enforcement efforts, making sure that the laws we have on the book appropriately protect all our citizens and then making sure that those laws are enforced so that we're actually bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. So I guess that's all I want to say about that now.

Q This question is for Maria. Maria, what groups -- what civil rights are going to be attending and what parts are they playing Monday in the workshops?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Did you say "civil rights groups"?

Q Yes.

MS. ECHAVESTE: The participants really -- it ranges everything from the usual organizations like ADL and National Council -- Leadership Conference. But we also try to get individuals from community organizations from around the country. And I do want to stress the law enforcement participation. This is a significant piece, because one of the things that we've learned is that people who have been the victims of hate crimes have in the past been reluctant to report their crimes to their local police, if it was a crime because of sexual orientation, feeling there would be a lack of sympathy, a lack of responsiveness. And we really want to hear from law enforcement officials who have developed their task forces or their community response in order to teach others on how to do it.

I think the important thing about a hate crime is not every act of violence is, in fact, a hate crime. And oftentimes you don't know that is in indeed a hate crime until you've finished your investigation, in order to understand the motivation. And so this makes it a little more difficult to investigate.

Q First of all, about the connection between the remarks the President is going to make tomorrow night and the conference on Monday. Do you have anything to say about that?

MS. ECHAVESTE: We announced the date of the conference in June and it just was fortuitous that we had accepted the HRC dinner a few months later.

Q The second thing is with regard to education or the educational community, so to speak. A lot of this goes on in schools or with students to other students and in many communities is simply treated as a law enforcement issue. The schools boards or the administrations don't want to get involved. So --

MS. ECHAVESTE: That's absolutely -- in fact we have two workshops: one on hate crimes in K through 12 -- just having that title makes you cringe a little bit to think that students will be harassing and possibly engaging in physical attacks against fellow students when they're fairly young. We'll also have one on hate crimes on college campuses -- on campus -- because the education piece is very, very important.

Q Why did you decide to do this now? I mean, what -- can you explain the timing? Why didn't this happen four years ago?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, all I can tell you in terms of what we've been working on -- since I've gotten here at any rate -- as I said, the idea came about as we were exploring and getting options and input on the President's Initiative on Race. And a number of groups came to us and said, you know, there is this problem of hate crimes and it really needs some visibility and needs to be put on sort of center stage, and we want to encourage the White House to do it. And so in that context we thought a conference is a good way to do it and it can encompass a variety of different groups that are the subject of hate crimes.

Q What will you do with the information afterwards? What sort of follow-up will you have?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, I think a lot of it depends on the interactions and the suggestions that come out of the workshops. I think that you will see from the announcements on Monday that there will, indeed, be follow-up. This is a significant commitment.

Q How do you decide what a hate crime is? Why is it a hate crime when it's against somebody who's a different race, but not a hate crime if it's somebody who's a different gender, for instance?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, that's precisely what I was getting to. They're trying to determine the motivations. There are those who argue that there are gender-based hate crimes. Those would be, obviously, very difficult -- could be very difficult to investigate -- I think not every rape would qualify as a hate crime. On the other hand, there could be instances or -- not every act of violence against an African American by a white person is -- or a Latino is necessarily a hate crime.

What we hope to learn from our law enforcement folks who will be attending on Monday is -- one of the panels is law enforcement response to hate crime -- how do you go about determining what is a hate crime. And it has to do with motivation and the identity of the victim. If the victim's characteristic was what led to the crime, as opposed to other motivations for crime, it's more difficult.

I think one of the statistics that Elena had, had to do with the percentage of victims who are -- of hate crimes who require hospitalization versus those who are victims of other crimes. And I think it was like 30 percent.

MS. KAGAN: I think it's 30 percent of the victims of hate crime require hospitalization, and only 7 percent of non-hate crimes require hospitalization. So these crimes do tend to be serious and often violent.

Q Will there be any focus at the conference on the increasing number of hate sites on the Internet?

MS. ECHAVESTE: I don't -- Richard --

MR. SOCARIDES: In the last break-out group --

MS. ECHAVESTE: I'm sorry, thank you for reminding me. One of the other workshops is combatting organized hate. That is, a workshop will be focused on groups that are organized around hate. And in that context, we should be discussing those things.

Q Why is this a federal issue, since criminal justice is basically a state and local issue?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, we do have federal hate crimes laws, and so there is federal law in this area.

Q Criminal?

MS. ECHAVESTE: There is federal criminal law in this area.

Q Maria, pretty much we understand that the Race Advisory Board is trying to target more so youth as far as dealing with the racial issue. Are you going to, Monday, deal with more so youth-oriented issues with them, target youth as well?

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, one of the participants on the President's panel is a sophomore in high school, a Filipino student who is part of an effort of the ADL's Children of Dreams program, who's working on peer training and to mediate tensions between groups. So there are young people involved in Monday's conference.

Q Do the statistics reflect the strength of organized hate groups? Are groups like the Klan and neo-Nazi groups on the increase? Do these numbers show anything in that regard?

MS. KAGAN: The aggregate numbers that we have are not broken down like that, so it's hard to say how much of them are crimes of organized hate groups and how much are the crimes of often, as one person said, teenagers acting sort of alone or in gangs of some kind. The statistics just don't give any indication.

Q Anecdotally, do you know? Do some of the experts that you've consulted ahead of this conference tell you anything about the strength of the presence of hate groups in the country?

MS. KAGAN: There is, obviously, still too much activity by hate groups and too many crimes committed by them. Klan Watch documented 51 cases of cross burnings in the United States in 1996. That's maybe one indication of the kind of crimes committed by a particular hate group.

But this is one of the things that's going to be talked about in one of these break-out sessions, is how prevalent these organized groups are, what kind of crimes they're committing and what we ought to do to respond to their activity.

Q Could you tell us the names of the workshops, so that we know what --

MS. ECHAVESTE: It's in the press advisory.

MR. LOCKHART: It will be available right after the briefing.

Q Would the Oklahoma City bombing qualify as a hate crime under your definitions?

MS. ECHAVESTE: No. Although it sort of represents how difficult it is to take on this issue. But because it -- we sort of -- that's domestic terrorism; it is focused on an issue, if you will, not against particular individuals, the characteristic of the individual as we saw in terms of the people who got hurt -- it crossed the lines of people who got hurt.

It's the same way that clinic violence would not -- although some groups have asked that it be considered a hate crime, it would not meet the strict definition.

Q Do you have statistics on hate crimes committed on college campuses?

MS. ECHAVESTE: No. In fact, one of the workshops will be about the need for data. And I think out of that we might find some suggestions in terms of what kind of data needs to be collected in order to be able -- like with any problem, you need the facts in order to devise strategies for combating and resolving those kinds of problems. So I think we might get some good suggestions.

Q Talking about the definition -- I'm still unclear -- these 8,759 reported last year, are they hate crimes as defined by the responsible particular law enforcement agency, that they felt was a --

MS. KAGAN: That's right. And often it depends on their own law and the definition of hate crimes in their own law, and that does vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. But for the most part, state laws look at the same thing, which is whether the attack or the other kind of crime was motivated by some kind of bias or animus against a characteristic of the victim -- whether that's sexual orientation, or race, or gender, or what have you.

Q What can we expect to see Monday? Are we going to see something like we saw with some of the Race Advisory Board meetings where you just have pretty much experts just talking, or do you have interactive --

MS. ECHAVESTE: Well, we have the -- as I described, we have -- over 350 people. There will be plenary session in which the President addresses them, and then the President moderates the panel of seven people that will be discussing the issue of hate crimes. Then they do breakout sessions and they'll be broken into 50 people per breakout. And then they'll be brought back together again. So there will be interaction among folks and then those discussion groups.

Any other questions?

Great. Thank you.

END 1:33 P.M. EST