Rights Panel Keeps Hot Line Data from Justice

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Miller

The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights refused this week to provide the Justice Department with requested information from a hot line established for Arabs and Muslims to report hate crimes and discrimination in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The eight-member commission, which established the toll-free number Sept. 17 for Middle Easterners to report incidents of ethnic intimidation, hate crimes and other civil rights infractions, has been asked repeatedly by the Justice Department to forward such cases for investigation.

"The fact that you continue to refuse to forward to this division or the civil rights unit of the FBI even basic information about the reports of hate crimes and other unlawful discrimination your agency is receiving is particularly troubling in view of the obvious seriousness and urgency of these matters," said Assistant Attorney General Ralph Boyd Jr., in a letter this week to commission staff director Les Jin.

The commission gathered yesterday for its monthly meeting, with the panel's leader defending the hot line's concept regardless of its results.

"The hot line doesn't hold itself out as a problem solver," said commission Chairman Mary Frances Berry. "We have made that very clear. And everyone that I've spoken to is very grateful. I think we ought to be proud to be doing this, rather than consider if it is helping anybody."

Terri Dickerson, director of the commission's office for civil rights evaluation, said at the meeting that hot line operators "encourage" callers to contact law enforcement.

"We always see if there is any way we can further assist, or see if there is another referral we can make," Miss Dickerson told the commissioners. She added that some of the callers started at the local police level and, unsatisfied, turned to the commission.

"It is an information service, not a problem-solving service, then?" Commissioner Christopher Edley asked.

Miss Berry also said that the information would not be valuable to law enforcement because callers can remain anonymous. …