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President Denounces Denver's Hate Crimes

Racism: Clinton calls the recent series of skinhead attacks on minorities and police intolerable. He cites his drive for reconciliation.

November 23, 1997|From Times Wire Services

DENVER — President Clinton denounced a recent series of hate crimes connected to white skinheads in this traditionally tolerant mountain city, saying Saturday that they demonstrate the need for "removing the poison that breeds them from all our hearts."

Taking a break from a fund-raising visit, Clinton addressed a spate of incidents that captured national attention after a 19-year-old man with shaved scalp admitted in a television interview that he killed a West African immigrant because he was black and "didn't belong where he was at."

That incident followed several other confrontations, including a shootout that killed a police officer.

"We must not--and I know the people of Denver will not--tolerate acts of violence that are fed by hate against people of another color," Clinton said. "And we must not tolerate violence and hatred targeted against police officers, the people who put their lives on the line for us every day."

Clinton said the Denver episodes "are painful illustrations of . . . why we have to do more to combat acts like this," and he cited his yearlong campaign for racial reconciliation as one means toward that end.

While in Denver, Clinton met briefly with Anna Vander Jagt, the widow of a police officer slain last week by a skinhead who then committed suicide.

The city's turmoil deepened with the random shooting death Tuesday of Oumar Dia, 38, a native of Mauritania who was waiting at a bus stop. The gunman then shot and paralyzed a white nurse who rushed to try to help Dia.

"I don't like some blacks," the arrested suspect, Nathan Thill, said in a jailhouse interview that shocked the city. "I guess it's sort of a thing that I love my own people and I'd like to see a place where just we could be."

White House officials said the Justice Department has opened an investigation under civil rights statutes into Dia's death and a separate investigation under domestic anti-terrorism laws into skinhead activities more generally in Denver.

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Earlier in the day, the president used his weekly radio address to express confidence that his plan for voluntary national exams in reading and math, though scaled back by Congress, will become a reality.

"They're a vital measuring tool to help parents, teachers and school officials demand accountability and excellence," Clinton said in his address, recorded Friday at the White House in the presence of the National Assessment Governing Board.

The 25-member board, established by Congress in 1988, was wrapping up two days of meetings on developing the proposed tests, with a pilot exam proposed for next fall.

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