Sessions Pledges to ‘Aggressively and Appropriately’ Enforce Hate Crime Laws Involving Transgender Victims

By Melanie Arter | July 6, 2017 | 3:21pm EDT
Attorney General Jeff Sessions (Screenshot of PBS video)

( – In a speech at the Justice Department’s 2017 Hate Crimes Summit, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his department will “aggressively and appropriately” enforce hate crime laws “where transgendered individuals are victims.”

He pointed to the sentencing of a Mississippi man convicted of killing a transgender woman with whom he had a consensual sexual relationship – the first prosecuted hate crime case where the victim was transgender.


“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,” Sessions said on June 29.

According to the DOJ, Vallum, a member of the Latin Kings and Queens Nation gang, killed Williamson after a friend found out he had dated someone transgender and out of fear that his fellow gang members would find out as well and he would be in danger.

“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 said. “I have directed the Civil Rights Division to work with the United States Attorney’s Offices and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify ways the department can support the state and local law enforcement authorities investigating these incidents and to determine whether federal action would be appropriate.

“I specifically directed that the files of these cases be reviewed to ensure that there is no single person or group behind these murders or to what extent hate crime motivation lies behind such murders. I receive regular updates on the status of that review,” Sessions added.

Sessions pointed to other hate crimes that did not involve transgender individuals and praised the FBI and the DOJ’s “international partners” for arresting a suspect in Israel “for allegedly making threatening phone calls to Jewish community centers, inflicting terror across the nation.”

“In April, we brought federal charges against him, and our investigation into these acts as possible hate crimes continues. This department will continue to lend its full support to law enforcement officers and communities so we can fight crimes like these,” he said.

Last week, a federal grand jury indicted a Texas man for burglary and arson of the Victoria Islamic Center, Sessions said. That man faces up to 40 years in federal prison.

“Earlier this month, a man in Tennessee was sentenced to over 19 years in prison for trying to recruit people to help him burn down a mosque in a small town in New York,” the attorney general said.  

“Also this month, the department indicted a man from Kansas for shooting three men at a bar because he thought they were of Persian origin.  One of the victims—a young Indian-American electrical engineer—was killed in the attack. He was just 32 years old and had a promising life ahead of him,” Sessions said.

“As you know, hate crimes are violent crimes.  No person should have to fear being violently attacked because of who they are, what they believe, or how they worship, so 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,” Sessions said.

In February, Sessions established the Department of Justice Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety, which will “work through five subcommittees, including one specifically set forth to address hate crimes.”

He asked the subcommittee to “explore ways to expand and improve training for federal, state, and local prosecutors and investigators on hate crimes.” The subcommittee will also explore “how we can work better with affected communities and our state and local law enforcement partners” as well as “how we can improve our data collection on hate crimes,” he said.

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