Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee discusses controversial bill to combat white supremacy hate crimes

A number of local Houston leaders are standing with Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee after she proposed what has become a controversial bill. The group is defending HR-61, which they say would combat white supremacy hate crimes.

One of the biggest criticisms of HR-61 is that it will infringe upon first amendment rights, but Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee says that couldn’t be further from the truth. "I can read what the first amendment says. You have the right to association. You have the right to freedom of religion, speech is protected," she said and Congresswoman Jackson Lee isn’t alone.

"Congresswoman we stand with you today proudly and loudly...In the Jewish community, my community we are seeing countless fliers of anti-Semitic and hate-filled pamphlets throughout this city...Hate crimes are at an all-time high. The highest in fact in over a decade," says Houston City Council Member Abbie Kamin.

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The local leaders say they support HR-61, which the congresswoman says she proposed after hearing the FBI Director say, "The increasing amount of domestic terrorism was grounded on the surge of white supremacy-based crimes."

"This law that Congresswoman Jackson Lee proposes would put into the books what we all, as a society know to be common sense...When people go out and incite violence when people go out and incite hate, when people go out and tell people to get locked and loaded, to take it into their own hands…the people who defend that do not stand for American values. That is un-American. We stand against that," says Representative Gene Wu.

"It is about added penalties if you are indicted and ultimately convicted for white supremacy motived crimes that result in Walmart, Buffalo, Mother Emanuel, Tree of Life and others," says the U.S. Rep., mentioning deadly mass shootings motivated by hate.

The congresswoman says under the bill there would be harsher penalties for those convicted of inciting and encouraging violence by what they say online or otherwise. She points to the gunman accused in the El Paso Walmart shooting. "He clearly said he was motivated by white supremacy," she stated.

"Calls for people to commit violent acts is not protected speech and never has been," Wu adds.

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"The action that Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is taking to thwart this rise in extremism and white supremacy is important…If we do not stand against white supremacy and extremism it will rise, and it will influence others. We’re to a point that if we don’t do it now we’re going to get to a place that we don’t want to get to," says Mark Toubin with the Anti-Defamation League but not everyone agrees.

"You know in this country you’re free to be a racist, say racist things. It may be offensive to you and me but people can do it. So we’re now going to start regulating speech? That’s what she’s doing," says Gary Polland former Harris. County Republican Party Chair.

"Look into the difference between freedom of speech and stirring up the pot of racism," says Johnny Mata with LULAC who supports HR-61.  

"We have a major criminal problem in our community, and it effects everybody regardless of race, regardless of religion, and we’re not dealing with it effectively," says Polland.

"It amends the Hate Crime Bill and includes race, ethnicity, religion, and it has white supremacy-motivated crimes. That is distinctive from speech," says Congresswoman Jackson Lee who is correcting critics, saying the bill would not keep anyone from joining a white supremacy group. "I have no authority over you. You can be card-carrying. I’m card-carrying for the NAACP".


"Pass the bill because if you can make federal laws to protect a bird, which is the bald eagle, then you can make federal laws to protect people of color," says George Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd.

The proposed bill is currently called "Leading Against White Supremacy Act of 2023". The congresswoman says she plans to rename it after the oldest person who died in the Buffalo grocery store mass shooting.

Congresswoman Jackson Lee is challenging everyone to, "read the bill. Tell me there’s not a purpose for this."