White House reacts to calls to address anti-Black hate crimes

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio it is crucial that leaders “step up to fight back and speak out…against these hateful attacks.”

The White House on Wednesday vowed that President Joe Biden would continue to be “forceful” in speaking out against race-based hate in the aftermath of the recent murders at a Dollar General in Jacksonville, Florida, but declined to say whether or not the administration feels it necessary to enact new legislation to address anti-Black hate crimes.

During the week of the funeral services for the victims, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told theGrio it is crucial that leaders “step up to fight back and speak out…against these hateful attacks.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre speaks during the daily press briefing at the White House on Aug. 29, 2023 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

“He’s going to be incredibly forceful to speak against this type of hate,” said Jean-Pierre at Wednesday’s White House press briefing. “When you’re silent, you’re complicit.”

Last week, during a meeting with civil rights leaders, the president told reporters he had not contacted the victims’ families because one of those families expressed that they did not want to be contacted. “Everyone deals with profound loss in a different way,” said Biden at the time. 

When asked if there has been any change in the White House’s communications with the families, Jean-Pierre told theGrio, “I don’t have calls to read out to you at this time.” She added, “But if those calls do happen, certainly, we will share that with all of you.”

However, the Biden spokesperson noted the president’s remarks in Florida last weekend while surveying the damage in the state caused by Hurricane Idalia, where Biden told the Jacksonville community, “Our hearts are with you,” and declared that racism and domestic terrorism “will not prevail in America.”

TheGrio asked the White House whether it felt it was necessary to consider new legislation to address racist attacks like the one that happened in Jacksonville, specifically an anti-Black hate crime bill similar to the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which was signed into law by President Biden in 2021 to address the rise of hate against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders during the pandemic. The law established hate crime reporting processes and guidance on culturally competent education campaigns.

Jean-Pierre said, “I don’t have anything to announce,” but said another law signed by Biden, the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, was an “important piece of legislation” achieved by the president and Congress. “The antilynching bill took decades upon decades,” she recalled. 

President Biden signs Emmett Till Antilynching Act
President Biden signs Emmett Till Antilynching Act into law on March 29, 2022. (Photo credit: White House)

The antilynching act, which made lynching a federal hate crime, established criminal penalties for the offense, including imprisonment for up to 30 years

Jasmine Burney-Clark, activist and founder of Equal Ground, a civic engagement organization based in Florida, told theGrio that the antilynching act was welcome and “a great start.”

“It can’t end there under this particular administration, not when you have a Black vice president, who is the second most powerful person in our nation, at the helm of what is happening,” said Burney-Clark.

She added, “We need to see that same sort of depth and scope directed toward Black folks.”

Burney-Clark said white supremacist attackers are becoming “empowered and emboldened” and feared that things could only get worse for Black Americans, particularly when certain leaders do not speak out against racist attacks. One of those leaders is Gov. Ron DeSantis, who she said “hasn’t denounced” white supremacists “because he knows that they’re a part of his base.”

Florida governor Ron DeSantis before an AFC divisional playoff game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 21, 2023, at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

DeSantis, who was booed by community members as he gave remarks at a vigil in the aftermath of the Jacksonville murders, was recently called out for not immediately denouncing a protest held by neo-Nazis and white supremacists outside Disney World. At least one of those protesters brandished a DeSantis presidential campaign flag, seemingly in support of the governor.

Burney-Clark slammed DeSantis for his silence and dismissed his visit at the Jacksonville vigil as nothing more than a “campaign stop” and not an “actual priority.”

“You said nothing about neo-Nazis who are doing exactly what the neo-Nazi did that killed those three Black people in Jacksonville,” she said. “You’re you’re not opening up investigations on how they’re mobilizing themselves and what future activities they could have planned.”

A demonstrator holds a sign referencing Florida Gov. Ron Desantis during a rally against white supremacy on Aug. 28, 2023, in Jacksonville, Florida. The rally was held in response to the racially motivated murder of three Black people at a Dollar General store two days earlier. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)

Given the lack of confidence in Gov. DeSantis’ ability to protect Black people in Florida, Burney-Clark added, “If he can’t, then who can? We’re looking at a president or vice president who have the capacity to do so because they’ve done it before.”

While the White House may not call for any new legislation at the moment, it confirmed with theGrio that preliminary conversations are happening with civil rights leaders about reviving President Biden’s United We Stand anti-hate summit, which was first held last September. Jean-Pierre told theGrio, “We’re looking at when we can have this.”

Civil rights leaders urged President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to bring the summit to Florida, where DeSantis has banned Black history curriculums and diversity programs across the state. 

“Florida is currently the epicenter of an authoritarian takeover that poses an immediate danger for the entire country,” stated Burney-Clark, who said any summit that comes to the Sunshine State should come with “fact-based solutions.”

She added, “The state has not had or seen relief from his authoritarian ways since he has been in office. And so, yes, it would serve as a perfect backdrop.”

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story included a quote from Burney-Clark that claimed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act increased penalties. This article was edited to reflect that the act did not increase penalties, but rather established reporting processes and guidance on culturally competent education campaigns.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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