- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 13, 2001

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. Such anonymity is needed because many of the callers are "marginal people who come to us" for help, Miss Berry said.
Mr. Boyd's letter asked Mr. Jin to share the commission's information with the Justice Department, "or that the commission permit us to review tapes, transcripts, or summaries of [at least] the most serious of such calls."
Mr. Boyd was out of town yesterday. But Dan Nelson, spokesman for the Justice Department's civil rights division, said the failure of the commission to provide the requested information could defeat the very purpose of the hot line.
"If they continue to refuse to give us this information, there could be many acts of ethnically motivated violence that go uninvestigated," Mr. Nelson said.
According to records from the commission, 440 calls "from Arab/Muslim Americans" were received between Sept. 17 and Oct. 9. Of those, 152 referred to "general harassment," while 151 were described as having only a minimal amount of information, as containing opinions, as "crank calls" or as "media inquiries."
The commission distributed the hot line number throughout the country. In New York, the epicenter of the terrorist attack, it was found on handouts. Other areas were reached through public service announcements narrated by celebrities and politicians.
When the hot line was first announced, a press release listed the wrong number one of a dating service, which urges the caller to hold on to meet "some exciting people."
Miss Dickerson explained that the commission refers most callers to another phone number after taking information, but the operators do not attempt to identify the callers or to verify their information.
A posting on the commission's Web site states that "In addition to providing information specific to your situation, the referred office will be able to further assist you in the event you decide to initiate a discrimination complaint."
Commissioner Abigail Thernstrom said that the refusal of the commission to provide information to law enforcement agencies was unacceptable."

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