Justice Dept. Makes Cross-Burning Cases A Top Civil-Rights Priority


The Obama Justice Department is drawing attention to prosecutions of cross burning incidents, but it's not clear whether the renewed focus reflects an increase in the number of such race-based events, reports MainJustice.com. The Civil Rights Division has made aggressive prosecutions of hate crimes a top priority, said the unit’s new chief, Tom Perez. He spoke after the sentencing of three men for burning a cross in the yard of an African-American family in Muncie, In., in 2008.

Sixteen 16 defendants were prosecuted in cross burning cases in the 2009. That is the most since fiscal 2004, when 18 defendants were charged in cross burning cases. Because the numbers reflect the cases that DOJ chose to prosecute, rather than the number of actual cross burnings, it's not clear whether the number of cross burnings is on the upswing. “I don't think it really tells you much of anything because it seems fairly obvious that most of them would not be prosecuted as federal crimes,” said Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “As a general matter, if the locals are going to prosecute, the feds will stand back. All these things are primarily state crimes, they can come in afterward and charge you with civil rights violations.” Indiana is one of five states without a hate crimes law.

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