U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, leaders of the Connecticut NAACP, and the Hartford Police Department, stood on the steps of Hartford’s oldest church Tuesday to call on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to hold hearings and investigate domestic hate groups and hate crimes.
Blumenthal said he wanted the investigations to expose the existence of hate groups and find information on how they operate, recruit and finance their crimes, specifically their acts of murder.
In a letter, to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, Blumenthal, along with five other U.S. Senators — Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Durbin of Illinois, Dianne Feinstein of California Christopher Coons of Delaware and Al Franken of Minnesota — strongly urged the committee to take action.
They said that the recent murder of 9 Charleston citizens inside an African Methodist church by 21-year-old white supremacist Dylann Roof should remind the country to “remind us that America’s effort to root out terrorism must include a focus on violent racism in our own backyard.”
The letter goes on to state: “Homegrown hate groups have engaged in violence against civilians for these purposes throughout our nation’s history, particularly targeting the African American community, and such groups continue to survive and even thrive.
It has been reported that Roof spoke of a desire to start a race-based civil war, the Senators wrote in their letter. They concluded that if the same act had been perpetrated by someone claiming a desire to harm Americans in the service of Islamic principles, “it would immediately he labeled an act of terror.”
The senators used the political aftermath of the mass shooting at a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin in 2012 as precedent for their demands. After the massacre, which was committed by a white supremacist, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights Subcommittee held a hearing on “Hate Crimes and the Threat of Domestic Extremism.”
The hearing was composed of leaders from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, law and data analysts, and the son of an Oak Creek victim.
Abridged transcripts of the testimony show that the panel was focused on prevention tactics and allocation of resources. Members of the panel exposed what they believed to be several problems with the current criminal justice system, such as the shortage of analysts, undertrained state and local officers, and the cloudiness of determining a hate crime.
Blumenthal made it clear that he believes it’s time for the committee to revisit the issue. He said that treating the massacre in Charleston as a mental health issue “is wrong” and that hate crimes born from systemic white supremacy are not isolated incidents.
“We’ve seen this before, in the bombing of churches, in the Old Creek Sikh temple shootings, and now in Charleston,” Blumenthal said.
Stephen W. Camp, a pastor at the Faith Congregational church where the press conference was held, said that these hate crimes are the result of twisted notions of privilege.
“Hate is taught at an early age,” he said. “It is like a germ that’s allowed to grow and takes over the whole body.”
He voiced a point that advocates against hate crimes have been making for months.
“ISIS is not the only threat to America,” he said.
Connecticut NAACP President Scot X. Esdaile agreed, and said that, although his organization has been battling terrorist acts inflicted on racial and minority groups since the organization’s beginning, their requests for help from the U.S. government have often “fallen on deaf ears.”
He praised Blumenthal for taking action, but also made it clear that progress will need to transcend judicial meetings.
“There have been hearings on some parts of this problem over the years, and even though some helpful improvements were made, the problem was not solved,” he said.
The NAACP President demanded thorough hearings with analytical experts and policy measures be some of the major steps taken to exorcise white supremacy and dismantle a racist system.
“Doing anything less feeds into this vicious cycle of raising this pervasive problem, but never truly solving it,” Esdaile said.
Blumenthal added that this action was meant to work in tandem with finding tangible solutions to gun control.
“We need to take guns out of the hands of criminals and those with criminal records … and redouble our commitment to those sensible measures like background checks,” he said.
The FBI’s most recent hate crime statistics report recorded 5,922 reported hate crimes in 2013. Of the 5,922 incidents reported, 48.5 percent were racially motivated, 66.4 of those were motivated by anti-black or African-American bias. An estimated 52.4 percent of those offenders were white.