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Katko Opening Statement at Hearing on Threats Targeting Black Institutions

March 17, 2022

Katko Opening Statement at Hearing on Threats Targeting Black Institutions

WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. John Katko (R-NY), Ranking Member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, delivered the following opening statement in a full committee hearing entitled, “The Targeting of Black Institutions: From Church Violence to University Bomb Threats.”

Ranking Member Katko’s Opening Statement (as prepared for delivery)

Thank you, Chairman Thompson, for holding this important hearing today, and thank you to our witnesses for joining us to discuss a troubling issue that threatens the safety and security of Americans throughout the United States.

Threats against African Americans are an ugly part of American history and an issue our country clearly still struggles with. Throughout the civil rights era, African Americans were subject to violent and often deadly assaults as they fought for their right for equality.

Birmingham, Alabama alone, which served as a focal point of the civil rights movement, experienced more than 40 deadly bombings between the late 1940s to mid-1960s, earning it the dubious nickname “Bombingham.”1 While our nation has thankfully made great progress, we still have work to do to ensure that all of our citizens feel safe within our borders.

Thank you, Reverend Manning, for being here today. It’s devastating to recall the evening of June 17th, 2015, when a mass shooter took the lives of nine African American congregants who were attending Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston.

This race-fueled attack at a historic African American church shook our nation, causing all of us to reflect on the fact that inherently evil acts of violence continue to exist in many forms. I am grateful to have you here today to discuss how this horrific day shaped the church’s external engagement to enhance security and any insights you have into how Congress can better support the safety and security of religious institutions.

Almost a decade later, we are now dealing with a series of threats, most of them targeted at the safety and well-being of predominantly black academic communities. The FBI reported that 57 historically black colleges and universities, or HBCUs, and houses of worship were targeted with bomb threats from January 4th through February 16th this year.

The FBI has dedicated more than 20 field offices to investigating these threats, which they have categorized as hate crimes. While we are thankful that no bombs have been discovered, these threats have derailed educational and religious operations, while instilling fear in the hearts of students, faculty, administrators, and worshippers.

I commend the Federal, State and Local law enforcement efforts to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

While law enforcement officers work to apprehend those responsible, Congress has a duty to ensure educational institutions and houses of worship have access to and knowledge of every safety and security tool in our federal toolbox.

The Department of Homeland Security offers a variety of grants, including Non-Profit Security Grants and Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grants to non-profits and institutions of higher education to establish or enhance security capabilities, mitigate targeted violence, and prevent terrorism.

At the same time, the FBI offers security training, including active shooter training, to teach leaders at schools, houses of worship, and other at-risk settings how to respond to threats and save lives. It is vital that soft targets, such as our colleges and churches, are aware of these resources and that we bolster their relationship with law enforcement to prevent violence within our communities.

I am excited to hear from our witnesses today about how they are working to protect HBCUs and African American houses of worship. I am looking forward to learning more about the unique threats their institutions face, the partnerships they have fostered with law enforcement, the capabilities they have to report and combat violence, and how Congress can strengthen all these efforts.

Threats against historically black institutions are attacks on the core freedoms promised to all American citizens. Efforts to derail any person’s ability to seek higher education or pursue their religious freedoms is an assault on their fundamental Constitutional rights and the justice system must address it swiftly and severely. Thank you again to our witnesses for being here today, and I look forward to our conversation.