Janet Reno praises Sacramentos response to arsons

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno had nothing but praise for the Sacramento community's response to the June synagogue arsons in a speech on combating hate crimes.

"We don't have to accept violence of hate," she said Monday, delivering the opening talk at the Western Regional Symposium on Hate Crimes at the Sacramento Hilton. "We can do so much if we use the example of the Sacramento area to come together and to never give up, to be persistent and to reach out and bring understanding."

Before speaking to an audience of about 200 at the three-day event, Reno attended a meeting with about 60 Sacramento leaders, including Jewish community officials and the rabbis of the three area synagogues struck by arson on June 18.

"She was pretty receptive to listening to the group in general," said Marc Carrel, chairman of the Sacramento Jewish Community Relations Council. "She wanted to understand what we in Sacramento had thought after we had gone through this. She also told us that she had heard very good reports from people on how her agencies had handled things after the arson."

Addressing the hate-crime conference, which was attended mostly by law-enforcement and education officials, Reno commended the rapid response of the entire community.

"Sacramento — like many others across the country, but I don't know of anyone who has done better than you — has shown itself to be stronger than the hatred and intolerance that fuels the bigots and bomb-throwers," she said. "Sacramento has stood up and persistently declared that the voices of tolerance and community and unity will overcome the voices of hate. You have been a splendid example for the country."

The attorney general outlined a four-point plan on how communities can fight hate crimes. First, she called for interagency cooperation among law-enforcement agencies. She called the Sacramento task force — which came together less than a week after the arsons — a national model. It included representatives from the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm, and state and local law-enforcement agencies.

Second, she said, community groups must make a committed stand against hatred.

Again, she pointed to the example of Sacramento, where three days after the arsons, 4,000 people of all faiths attended a community rally. The event launched a Unity Fund that has raised more than $550,000 to restore or rebuild the affected synagogues.

"When I see neighbors reaching across ethnic and social boundaries coming together to discuss the issue of crime, of improving the education of their children, or strengthening the local economy, I see a healthier, stronger, better community. I see a great community like the Sacramento area," she said.

"You have come together to deal with crime, to deal with hate crime, and you have done it in a thoughtful way that serves as a shining example for the rest of the nation," she added.

Third, Reno put an emphasis on education, proposing that children learn to respect diversity starting at birth.

"Our efforts to confront the demons that breed hate and hate-based violence must begin very early," she said. "Just as hate crimes are a community problem, they require community solutions. To move forward as one community, we must work against the stereotypes and the prejudices that spawn these actions. We must turn to our educators, our religious leaders, the people who work with our children. We must engage our schools in teaching our young people normal values and social responsibility."

Finally, Reno said fighting hate crime requires persistence. "Sacramento saw hate crimes in 1994, and it did not give up," she said. "Sacramento knows it will not go away overnight. It requires a consistent effort that says, 'We will not tolerate this.'"

In addition to Reno and other public officials, representatives from the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and its Museum of Tolerance spoke. The conference was organized by the California Commission on Peace Officer Standards and Training, the California Department of Education and other agencies.

During the meeting with community leaders, state Assemblyman Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), a member of Congregation B'nai Israel, whose library was destroyed by the arson, spoke with Reno about his bill proposing a Sacramento tolerance center that would include a museum and offer research into hate crimes.

The legislation for the center passed in the state Senate early last week and awaits Gov. Gray Davis' signature.

Discussing Reno's presence at the hate-crimes conference, Steinberg said, "It was very positive today to have the chief law enforcement officer of the country and a national leader come to Sacramento and join our effort to combat hate violence and hate crimes. It shows from the highest levels of our national government, this is an issue of profound importance.

"We have to find ways both through law enforcement and our education system," he said, "to send the message that these acts won't be tolerated and to teach people how to be civil and decent and care for each other."