The Justice Department would strenuously pursue hate crimes and prosecute them, Vanita Gupta, chief of the Civil Rights Division, promised while delivering the keynote address at the Hindu American Foundation’s Inaugural Policy Conference event in Washington, DC on June 20.
Gupta, an Indian American holding top position at the Obama administration was responding to the recent massacre in Orlando where 49 people were killed in a club frequented by LGBTQ people, by a man who claimed to be driven by extremist Islamic ideology.
“Our conversation comes at a trying time. Just eight days ago, we suffered a horrific terrorist attack in Orlando, Florida. And as we continue to pray for the victims and their families, I want to assure you that – as the Attorney General said many times this past week – the Department of Justice continues to use every resource at its disposal to investigate this appalling attack,” she told the audience.
While lauding the The Hindu American Foundation’s motto – “promoting dignity, mutual respect and pluralism” – represents the very best traditions of people from many different faiths, beliefs and backgrounds around the country, Gupta said, “whether we worship another faith or whether we consider ourselves non-religious, in this country, our laws protect the rights of all people to live free from violence, discrimination and harassment. The First Amendment of the Constitution lists religious freedom as the first right. And today, in the 21st century, with people of many different beliefs calling America home – the values of diversity and pluralism continue to define our national identity. In my own life – as the daughter of Indian immigrants, as the wife of a Vietnamese refugee and as a longtime civil rights lawyer – I have seen the profound power of our laws to advance America’s promise of equal protection, equal justice and equal opportunity for all.”
The FBI and different government agencies continue to lead a range of enforcement efforts in the area of religious discrimination, she said. “To further improve our efforts to combat hate violence, along with our U.S. Attorney partners and the FBI, last year we organized a series of regional hate crimes trainings – in Mississippi, California, Oregon, Kansas and Florida. These sessions helped to train local and federal law enforcement in how to recognize, investigate and prove hate crimes. They helped to educate communities and engage them in the process of ensuring public safety. And they helped to encourage better hate crime reporting and data collection.”
Gupta urged the members of the group to “ask the tough questions, to tackle the hard issues and to confront the real challenges that exploit differences in our communities. In so doing, you will help bring our country closer to its founding promise of a land that protects all people. You will advance the values that define us as a nation. And day-by-day, you will shape America into a more just and more free union.”