“The threat of terrorism is real. It has not gone away,” said Willie T. Hulon, FBI Executive Assistant Director in charge of the bureau’s National Security Branch. However, Hulon stressed that the bureau -- in battling terrorism -- does not infringe upon the rights of citizens. “We in the FBI believe that we have to operate within the rule of law and the constitution to protect the freedoms we enjoy,” he said.
Hulon’s remarks served as the keynote address for a two-day conference on law enforcement and civil rights sponsored by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the FBI’s Birmingham division. Called “Where Do We Go From Here? Law Enforcement and Civil Rights,” the conference focused on bridging the communication gap between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve.
The FBI, according to Hulon, is the one federal agency responsible for civil rights investigations. “We need the community to interact with us, to report violations,” Hulon said. “The FBI must strengthen our links to community, and not just one segment,” Hulon said, citing the African-American, Muslim, and Hispanic communities as examples.
Hulon admitted that many civil rights violations, including such hate crimes as cross burning, go unreported, and he noted that these cases are often tough to prosecute because the victims have been intimidated. “People are reluctant to come forward,” he said.
However, Hulon believes that any investigation of a crime, even short of prosecution, can help deter offenders. “Even when law enforcement gets out and knocks on doors and asks questions and subpoenas witnesses, it makes people think, ‘Maybe I shouldn’t do this,” he said.
Hulon also cited the possible deterrent effect of the reopening of old civil rights cases, such as the bombing at 16th St Baptist. Possible offenders might think twice about carrying out such a crime. “Forty years later there might be a knock on the door,” he said.