BOSTON (AP) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder touted his record on civil rights during a speech Tuesday in Boston while barely mentioning the controversy over the "Fast and Furious" program swirling around him in Washington.
Speaking at a symposium on civil rights hosted by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Boston, Holder said that over the last three years, the Justice Department has filed a record number of criminal civil rights cases, including police misconduct, hate crimes and human trafficking cases.
Holder touched only briefly on a vote looming Thursday on whether to hold him in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over documents related to Operation Fast and Furious. The program allowed guns to "walk" from Arizona to Mexico in hopes they could be tracked to high-level arms traffickers.
Holder, referring to his schedule, said: "It's going to get really busy on Thursday, apparently." His remark drew laughter from the crowd of about 500 law enforcement personnel, religious leaders, veterans and community leaders.
He repeatedly referred to former Attorney General Robert Kennedy's testimony nearly a half-century ago urging the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1963. He said although much has been done to protect civil rights since then, more needs to be done.
"Even in America's most vibrant cities, too many neighborhoods remain afflicted by the same disparities, divisions and problems that decades ago so many struggled, sacrificed, fought and even died to address," Holder said.
He said the Justice Department has worked hard to combat bullying, human trafficking and discriminatory practices in housing and lending.
Last year, the Justice Department got more convictions for defendants charged with hate crimes than any other year in more than a decade, Holder said. Over the past three fiscal years, the department prosecuted 35 percent more hate crime cases than during the previous three-year period, he said.
The House of Representatives is expected to vote Thursday on whether to hold Holder in contempt of Congress for refusing to hand over documents related to Operation Fast and Furious. A House committee is seeking internal communications from Feb. 2011, when the Obama administration denied knowledge of the program, to the end of the year, when they acknowledged the denial was in error.
Federal agents in Arizona lost track of several hundred weapons. Two guns traced to the operation were found at the scene of the 2010 killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent who was killed in a firefight with a group of armed Mexican bandits.