Joint Effort Targets Hate Crimes

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and the Justice Department announced yesterday a joint effort aimed at improving the tracking of and response to hate crimes across the country.

Funded with a $200,000 Ford Foundation grant, the new effort is aimed at marshaling private lawyers to aid the Justice Department in identifying and punishing hate crimes, which advocates say are vastly underreported.

Under the new effort, attorneys working through eight national offices of the Washington-based Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights will advocate for hate crime victims with police and local prosecutors and file civil suits in behalf of victims.

Although a 1990 federal law requires collection of national hate crime statistics, civil rights advocates said it has yet to be fully implemented and that reporting varies widely from city to city. The federal government documented 9,861 hate crime incidents in 1997, more than half of which were motivated by racial bias.

Armey Advocates Boycotts

House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) is suggesting that economic boycotts as well as federal legislation have a role in combating "the violence of crudity" that pervades modern pop culture.

"We do need to hold Hollywood, the music industry and video game makers accountable," Armey wrote in a letter to all GOP House Republicans after the shootings at a Colorado high school. "Demanding better warning labels and organizing boycotts of the most egregious products are obviously first steps," wrote the former economics professor.

In response to the shootings, Armey said, "We should not simply blame the guns. . . . Nor should we rush to impose government censorship on Hollywood."

The House will debate the issue later this month, when Republicans bring to the floor legislation to attack juvenile crime. Gun control proposals are certain to be part of the bill, as they were in the Senate.

Radioactive Waste Disposal Fails

After spending nearly $500 million, the Energy Department acknowledged yesterday that a crucial stage in the disposal of millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste is a failure and should have been abandoned years ago.

The failed process involves attempts by scientists to find a way to separate the most highly radioactive material from less radioactive liquids in 35 million gallons of waste being stored in drums at the Savannah nuclear weapons facility in South Carolina.

Scientists found that the process, when handling such large amounts of waste, produces large amounts of explosive benzene gas, making it too dangerous.

Last week, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson directed that the project's contractor, a Westinghouse Corp. subsidiary, be replaced and that outside scientists be enlisted to help select an alternative technology.