Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that it was the Department of Justice's duty to ensure that "all Americans can live their lives without fear" while making remarks to the 2017 Hate Crimes Summit in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
The department's Hate Crimes Subcommittee held the one-day summit, which focused on "identifying, prosecuting, and preventing hate crimes." The meeting brought together local law enforcement officials and experts to discuss problems in hate crime enforcement, including a severe lack of nationwide data.
Sessions took a hard line on hate crimes in his address, saying that "no person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship."
"I pledge to you: As long as I am attorney general, the Department of Justice will continue to protect the civil rights of all Americans—and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in our country," he said.
Sessions asked for input from local law enforcement to enable better hate crime prosecution by the department, especially on how it can "improve our data collection on hate crimes."
He also touted department successes in prosecuting hate crimes during his tenure. These included the cases of a dual U.S.-Israeli citizen responsible for bomb threats directed against American Jewish Community Centers, a man who burned the Victoria Islamic Center in Texas, and a Kansas man who shot three men in a bar because he believed they were Iranian.
Sessions noted that his department was the first to prosecute the murder of a transgendered individual under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
"We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered individuals are victims. Last month, Joshua Brandon Vallum was sentenced to 49 years in prison for assaulting and murdering Mercedes Williamson. This is the first case prosecuted under the Hate Crimes Prevention Act involving the murder of a transgender person," he said. "I personally met with the department's senior leadership and the Civil Rights Division to discuss a spate of murders around the country of transgender individuals."
Sessions' remarks came as a the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new federal report claiming that more than half of all hate crimes between 2004 and 2015 went unreported. That counts more than 250,000 hate crimes per year, based on a survey of households.
"Under our Constitution and laws, this nation protects freedom of conscience, religion, speech, petition, and assembly among others. Thomas Jefferson swore eternal hostility over any domination of the mind of man. So let it be," Sessions said.
"Hate crimes are not only violent attacks on our fellow citizens; they are an attack on our country's most fundamental principles," Sessions said. "We have a duty to make sure that all Americans can live their lives without fear."