Beverley Lumpkin: Halls of Justice

A senior Civil Rights division attorney explained that federal jurisdiction under current law depends on the vagaries of where crimes happen. One case could only be brought because it had occurred in a 7-11 store where there was a pinball machine, and that fell under the “place of entertainment” clause of the public accommodations protected activity. There could have been a federal prosecution in the case of James Byrd, the Jasper, Texas, man who was dragged to death in 1998, because he was killed on a public street, a benefit administered by a state.

And not only do federal lawyers have to show the crime was committed because of the victim’s race or religion, they must also prove the crime occurred because the victim was engaged in one of those federally protected activities — a very high hurdle.

So sometimes — often — it’s just not possible to find a basis for federal prosecution. And sometimes local authorities cannot or will not proceed. It’s for those occasions that Justice needs the new law.

While all other crimes have been steadily declining, the number of reported hate crimes has grown.

It’s not clear at this point if the crimes are actually increasing, or if it’s just a case of better reporting, but the Civil Rights lawyer also noted that the number of sexual orientation hate crimes has been growing.

And he pointed out that, while there has been no systematic study of the level of violence committed during hate crimes, anecdotally the level of violence in these crimes is extreme; “these are some of the worst crimes there are,” he said.

RENOVATION BRINGS STRANGE BEDFELLOWS

Because of the ongoing Justice Department building renovation, some ceremonies that would ordinarily be held in the Great Hall have to roam around to other buildings and facilities.

Next Monday the Criminal Division will hold its annual awards ceremony at the FBI’s auditorium.

But ironically, the chief honoree, Public Integrity Section Chief Lee Radek, is a sort of sworn enemy of FBI Director Louie Freeh.

These two guys have a mutual dislike and disdain that has now become near legendary. It was only a few months ago that a Freeh memo was leaked that revealed he had tried to get Radek taken completely off the campaign finance investigation way back in 1996.

Freeh and his minions have consistently tried to undermine Radek with Republicans on Capitol Hill only too eager to fix on someone as the evil genius who caused Reno to make all her wrong campaign finance decisions.

And now Radek will receive the coveted Henry Petersen award, the highest honor the Criminal Division can bestow, right there on Freeh’s home turf, his very own temple.

It’s doubtful the director will find time to look in on the ceremony, but if he were dead he’d be spinning in his grave.

Beverley Lumpkin has covered the Justice Department for ABCNEWS for 14 years. Halls of Justice appears every Friday.

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