Despite fears that the Department of Justice under Jeff Sessions might relax efforts on going after hate crimes, the attorney general pledged today to continue to enforce federal hate crime laws, including those committed against transgender individuals.
Sessions notably voted against hate crime protections as a senator, saying the law was overly broad and arguing that he thought it unnecessary to include further protections for LGBTQ people. The issue came up during his confirmation hearings.
Last month, the first person in the nation’s history was sentenced on a hate crime stemming from anti-trans violence. Gang member Joshua Vallum pleaded guilty to the murder of Mercedes Williamson, a young transgender woman with whom he was romantically involved.
Sessions responded to the case by saying the Justice Department, under his leadership, will work to “vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias motivated crimes.”
Today he assured the country that those efforts will continue.
“I know the responsibility that we have and we have a responsibility to protect people’s freedom, their religious rights, their integrity, their ability to express themselves, to push back against violence and hate crimes that occur in our country,” Sessions told federal prosecutors gathered for a Justice Department hate crimes summit in Washington, D.C. today. “So, we’re going to do that, I will assure you, in every way.”
Sessions stressed the department would go after crimes where transgender people are the victims, as well as those in other vulnerable communities.
“I personally met with the department’s senior leadership and the civil rights division to discuss a spate of murders — a number of murders around the country of transgendered individuals. A lot of concerns and questions were out there about how this was occurring and what we were doing about it,” Sessions said. “I specifically directed the files of these cases be reviewed to ensure there was not — no single person or group behind these attacks, these murders, or to what extent hate crime motivation in general may have been behind these attacks.”
Sessions also outlined the need to aggressively enforce hate crimes laws against those who commit crimes against individuals due to their race, religion, or country of origin.
“Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ speech today does not go far enough in responding to the spike in hate incidents that we have seen across the country in the last several months,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “He failed to address the fact that more than 100 federal law enforcement agencies are not providing hate crimes data to the FBI. Moreover, the Administration’s executive orders and policies toward African Americans, Latinos, and other communities of color, Muslims, LGBTQ communities, immigrants, and refugees have undermined the trust that is necessary for communities and victims to freely report hate crimes to law enforcement.”
You can watch Sessions deliver his remarks below, as well as the transcript of his remarks.
Transcript of Sessions’ remarks can be found in full on the next page.