Al Sharpton Criticizes '08 Candidates For Weakness on Hate Crimes Law

Civil rights activist Al Sharpton complained on Tuesday that the Democratic presidential candidates have been less than forceful in speaking out about recent hate crimes and the policies of President Bush's Justice Department.

The New York-based reverend was in Washington with Martin Luther King III and other activists to discuss a march next week at the headquarters of the Justice Department, which they contend has taken no serious action to prosecute a spate of recent noose-hanging incidents following the Jena 6 case.

Sharpton said he was upset those issues weren't discussed last month at a debate among the Democratic candidates.

"Hate crimes and racism and Jena never came up one time. Even the Democrats have not, in our judgment, raised their voices to the level they should," said Sharpton, who ran for president in 2004. "Don't come to us for our vote and then not speak about our needs when you're center stage."

Concern about noose-hanging incidents intensified after an uproar in the small town of Jena, La., surrounding three white teens who hung nooses outside a school and six black teens later charged in the beating of a white student. Five of the six were initially charged with attempted murder, but those charges were reduced.

Sharpton and others have criticized the federal government for declining to use existing hate crime laws to prosecute the teens who hung the nooses. Federal prosecutors say they typically do not file such charges against minors. Nooses are a reviled symbol of segregation-era violence.

Justice Department officials say they are aggressively investigating numerous noose-hanging reports around the country. On Tuesday, the march organizers said they knew of no criminal charges filed in any of the recent incidents.