Preet Bharara: From Café, welcome to Stay Tuned, I’m Preet Bharara.
Cynthia Deitle: Who are our leaders? Whether it’s our president, our attorney general, our governor, our mayor, who are the leaders that we are putting in office and do those people profess attitudes of acceptance and equity or not?
Preet Bharara: That’s Cynthia Deitle, the former chief of the FBI civil rights unit. She served 22 years as a special agent focused on civil rights and hate crimes. Now the director of civil rights reform at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, Deitle continues to dedicate her life to combating hate. The recent rise in hate crimes has shaken communities across the country. Deitle explains why it’s necessary to have and enforce legislation, that protects people from being targeted for who they are. We talked about the necessity of holding law enforcement officials accountable, why it should be mandatory for law enforcement agencies to report their hate crime data, and how a hate crime affects more than just the victim. That’s coming up, stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: (silence)
Arp: Hey, Preet, this is [Arp] calling from New York. My question for you is, would you rather have Donald Trump in the White House and a democratic Senate majority, or a Democratic president in the White House and Republican majority in the Senate, all else being equal? Thanks a lot love your show.
Preet Bharara: Hey Arp and thanks for your question. Look, I know we’re all sort of looking to see what’s going to happen the election, there was a debate last night, which may not have been the most elegant debate in the history of the world. As I’ve been saying for a long time, I think the most important thing for the preservation of the rule of law, for the preservation of a lot of our institutions, the ones that we hold dear, is that Donald Trump not be reelected. I understand the point that people are making about the down ballot races, it’s very, very important, the next president, if it’s a Democrat, won’t be able to accomplish much of what he or she wants to do if there’s an intransigent Senate, still headed up by Mitch McConnell, and I appreciate all that.
Preet Bharara: But at this point, what I’m most concerned about is further damage to the institutions that we have already. I’ll give you just one example. We have several aging supreme court justices, including Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who, my goodness thank God for her haleness and heartiness, and seems to be able to survive anything. But will she be able to remain on the bench for five more years? That seems unlikely. Same with Stephen Breyer. So on one issue alone, the mere reelection of Donald Trump virtually ensures the replacement of two liberal justices. And what that would mean for lots and lots of things, including the rule of law, including the right to choice, including immigration actions, including the scope of executive power, I don’t even want to think about it.
Preet Bharara: So on that basis alone, I think as much as it would be great to have I think a Democratic majority in the Senate for various reasons, depending on what you believe in, the presidency stands above.
Mike: Hi Preet, Mike [inaudible] calling from Boston. Love your podcasts, I’ve listened to every one of them in full through last week. I have a question regarding the new announcement from Attorney General Barr regarding approval process for investigating anyone running for presidency, or other major offices, or their staff. Couldn’t fleecy, corrupt folks simply declare that they’re running for office? Is there any limit to the number of people who are running for president? Couldn’t 10,000 people say they’re running for president and put 10 or 20 of their corrupt cronies on their staff? What would that do to investigations nationwide? Love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks a lot, bye-bye.
Preet Bharara: Hi, Mike from Boston thanks for your question, thanks for listening to every episode, I hope you’re listening to this one. So that’s an interesting take on the perverse effects of Bill Barr’s announcement. Anne Milgram and I talked about it on the Insider podcast at some length and, in the ordinary circumstances, it’s not a crazy thing to want to make sure that rogue prosecutors are not on their own appending an election because they’re opening up improper investigations of people running for office at the presidential level, or their campaigns, whether staffs. The problem in my mind is at this moment when Bill Barr has not proven himself to be independent, and looks like he’s often just being a shield for the president, and only recently give some lip service to his independence, but his track record shows the opposite.
Preet Bharara: That an announcement like this, regarding the approval process, given the strings that he’s appeared to be attached to, is worrisome. Now, on your question of whether or not people might seek to immunize themselves from investigation into their bad conduct, by declaring themselves to be candidates for the presidency, the first thing that comes to my mind is maybe that was something Michael Avenatti was way ahead of his timeline, and might have benefited from that proclamation before he committed his crimes. As you know, he was convicted in the Southern District of multiple felonies, faces more charges in California. I think we have bigger problems to worry about with respect to Bill Barr and the independence of the Justice Department, than this somewhat outlandish scenario, that random uncaught criminals are going to seek to shield themselves by simply announcing their candidacy for president. But good thought.
Preet Bharara: This question comes in a tweet from listener Lmoon79, also known as mama bear. This person asks, I need a little understanding of how attorneys can argue that a juror was biased after a verdict, that they didn’t like. And after they conducted voir dire, well, they are the very people charged with choosing the jurors #askpreet. So that’s a very good question and sort of a complicated one, and I’ll answer it generally. So in both the state and federal systems around the country, there’s something known as voir dire, which is the mechanism of questioning jurors to find out a little bit about their background, whether they’re familiar with the parties in the case, whether they think they have the ability to be fair. And with respect to some of those jurors, the parties, meaning the defense and the prosecution, has the right to strike certain jurors for any reason that’s not an improper one, like bigotry or racism, or discrimination.
Preet Bharara: And otherwise, they can be struck for cause by the judge, because there’s a finding on the part of the court, that that person can’t be fair. Or to work an undue hardship on that person. And the federal system especially, voir dire, or at least in my experience, is fairly limited, they don’t go into a lot of things. So you can make a determination as to the bias or lack of bias of a juror, before they sit in the jury box and weigh the evidence, but there are occasions where certain things come to light with respect to a juror after they’ve been seated, which I think is the basis of your question. In other words, were there things that the juror chose not to disclose whether they were asked about or not?
Preet Bharara: A very common example of this that I saw, I mean I guess not so common, but it happened from time to time, where a juror in voir dire did not indicate that he or she had a prior brush with the law, or had a record, or had an arrest, or served time in prison, which doesn’t necessarily mean they can’t serve on a jury, but it’s certainly relevant to the voir dire process, and that comes to light later during the trial, as I’ve seen it happen a couple of times when I was the US Attorney, and in that case, it’s a serious question. Not just the fact that this person might have a bias, but that this person hid a relevant fact that was asked about. Sometimes in other situations, there can be evidence that a juror act in a biased way based on comments, or failure to deliberate after the trial’s over.
Preet Bharara: When they go back and try to figure out whether they think the defendant is guilty or not guilty. So, those are kinds of things that don’t happen very often, they require, I think, a very high threshold to be met, because jurors who have gone through voir dire are generally presumed to be acting in good faith, and acting fairly. But to the extent those kinds of things can be shown later, then there’s a case to be made, that juror was biased, and it may affect the outcome of the trial. I assume you’re asking the question because of the case of Roger Stone, and the motion made by his lawyers to give him a new trial because one of the jurors they claim was biased in various ways. The court in its discretion decided to have a hearing on that in the last couple of days, behind closed doors, in a sealed context.
Preet Bharara: So I don’t know what kind of evidence was deduced. I’ve seen some reporting that other jurors in the case were questioned about the juror in question, and said that the juror in question was honorable in connection with their service, and deliberated, and didn’t show any bias, and urged everyone to deliberate appropriately. I don’t know what the conclusion will be but to answer your basic question, there are times when the voir dire is not enough to ferret out someone who might be unfair.
Speaker 5: It’s time for a short break, stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: My guest this week is Cynthia Deitle. She’s a lawyer and a former FBI agent who spent 22 years at the forefront of the Bureau’s efforts to tackle hate crimes, police brutality and civil rights cases. Today Deitle overseas hate crimes work at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an LGBTQ advocacy organization, created in the aftermath of Matthew’s brutal murder in 1998. The foundation is dedicated to ensure safety, inclusiveness and eradicating hatred. We talked about what drew Deitle to the FBI in the first place, how she navigated some tense relationships with the police in her line of work. Why talking to white supremacists can help us understand the impetus for hate crimes, and the widespread impact hate has on communities that span the globe. Plus the humbling power of mercy. That’s up next. Stay tuned.
Preet Bharara: Cynthia Deitle thank you so much for being on the show.
Cynthia Deitle: I am super excited to be here, thanks for inviting me.
Preet Bharara: I wanted to have you on for a long time for a number of reasons. There had been a spate of hate crimes that have taken place in New York City, particularly against the Jewish community. I made the point in the podcast before that I want to talk about these things a little bit more, understand hatred, we’ve had civil rights lawyers on the show before, Vanita Gupta, who I think you’ve worked with a lot.
Cynthia Deitle: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Which is always been great, but we haven’t had someone as special as you who have done the kinds of things that you have done. Former FBI agent for 22 years?
Cynthia Deitle: True, yes.
Preet Bharara: Working on police brutality cases, civil rights cases, hate crimes cases, to get your perspective. So I’m excited about that. Also, our other mutual friend, former colleague, Andrew Schilling, former chief of my Civil Division emailed me and said, “You got to have Cynthia on the show.”
Cynthia Deitle: Exceptional lawyer.
Preet Bharara: Let’s start from the beginning. Well, not quite your birth, but soon thereafter. When you understood that you wanted to be, I guess in public service generally, and then more specifically when you thought you might want to be in the FBI.
Cynthia Deitle: Sure.
Preet Bharara: And why?
Cynthia Deitle: I was in third grade, I was 10 years old.
Preet Bharara: That’s early.
Cynthia Deitle: That’s early and I wanted to be a police officer. And my father said, “You can’t do that.” He was also an attorney. I fussed a little bit, and then he said, “Well, you can be that.” And he pointed at the TV. And he said, “You could be like that guy.” And he was pointing to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. in today’s FBI, old FBI show. And he said, “You could do that.” And I said, “Well, what is that?” And he said, “Well, that’s the FBI.” And I said, “Well, what is that?” He said, “Well, that’s the, you know, it’s like the best law enforcement agency, you could do that.” And I said, “Oh, I’d love to do that.” And he said, “Well, you have to go to law school, it’s mandatory.” It’s not, please. Bad recruiting statement there.
Preet Bharara: Yeah.
Cynthia Deitle: But he said that I had to go to law school first, and I said, “Okay, I can do that.”
Preet Bharara: So at third grade, you applied to law school?
Cynthia Deitle: I did and then became an FBI agent in what’s that? Three years later in sixth grade?
Preet Bharara: Yeah, you’re like another rotten Pharaoh.
Cynthia Deitle: That’s, I wish. And then seventh grade, I had to write my first research paper, and I wrote it on the Kent State shooting. I’m from Akron, Ohio and Kent State’s not too far away.
Speaker 6: On May 4th 1974 students were killed and nine wounded when National Guardsmen opened fire on a campus at Kent State University.
Cynthia Deitle: And the more I researched, the more I became horrified as a 13 year old, that a governmental agency could turn on its own people. And I thought that was the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. And that just stuck in my head.
Preet Bharara: What’s kind of odd about that is, the violence was being perpetrated by law enforcement, and that caused you to want to be in law enforcement, explain that.
Cynthia Deitle: I was going to fix it all.
Preet Bharara: Yeah-
Cynthia Deitle: I had this-
Preet Bharara: From the inside.
Cynthia Deitle: … From the inside I thought, how better to fix an organization that I thought as a 13 year old was broken, but had tremendous power, than to get inside of the organization and try to make it what it could be in my view.
Preet Bharara: That’s an unusual angle. Because some other people-
Cynthia Deitle: It’s a little weird.
Preet Bharara: … At that age-
Cynthia Deitle: … It’s a little weird.
Preet Bharara: … And with a certain amount of idealism might have thought, maybe I’ll go the protest route.
Cynthia Deitle: I did a couple protests-
Preet Bharara: You’re like, I’m going to join them.
Cynthia Deitle: I did a couple of protest but realized that being on the inside and making the FBI what I thought it was supposed to be, was the way to go. And that was where I can make a difference.
Preet Bharara: So your dad was not correct, that it’s a requirement you get a law degree, just so it’s clear to everybody, if you want to work for the FBI, you don’t need to have a law degree, you need to do some other work. Maybe people don’t appreciate that, the FBI typically does not recruit directly out of college, they want people to have some professional experience. And there are many lawyers in the FBI, and accountants, and other folks too. But you got a law degree.
Cynthia Deitle: I did.
Preet Bharara: With the intent of going to the FBI.
Cynthia Deitle: That’s true.
Preet Bharara: Because your pops said you had to do that?
Cynthia Deitle: That’s true.
Preet Bharara: Did you go on the website and find out that you didn’t need the law degree?
Cynthia Deitle: I wised up, I got a little smarter in college and realized I didn’t actually have to go to law school but, I thought it would be a good fail safe career if I couldn’t get into the FBI, that thought crossed my mind when I was in college. I thought, well, if I can’t get in, what am I going to do? I could be a lawyer.
Preet Bharara: So you apply to the FBI, you get accepted?
Cynthia Deitle: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And then you go to Quantico.
Cynthia Deitle: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And there are all these other folks, I’m guessing still then mostly men.
Cynthia Deitle: Yes, my class, the first day of class there were about 50 new agents, and I think about six were females, and that was in 1995. Graduated 33, several left or dropped out, but there were only about six females that I graduated with.
Preet Bharara: Now, these other agents in training that you got to know at Quantico when you first got to the FBI, did they all also come to the FBI with the same visions of change after having watched Kent State? How different were you from your peers?
Cynthia Deitle: I will never forget the first night at Quantico, you always start on a Sunday. And we all gathered together that Sunday night. And the instructors asked us to go around the room, introduce ourselves, who we were, where we’re from, what do we do. And I was one of the first people to speak because it was alphabetical and my last name … And I specifically said who I was and where I was from, and that I wanted to work civil rights violations and make the FBI better, and the civil rights program. And I think I just got that word out before I heard behind me, “Pinko commie who let the communist in?”
Preet Bharara: This is at Quantico they called you pinko-
Cynthia Deitle: This was at Quantico, yeah.
Preet Bharara: Are you are pinko and a commie?
Cynthia Deitle: I am not a pinko nor a commie.
Preet Bharara: I don’t even know what pinko means.
Cynthia Deitle: I don’t know, but it doesn’t sound very flattering.
Preet Bharara: So how was training?
Cynthia Deitle: I mean, I am probably a strange FBI agent but I enjoyed it. I mean, I enjoyed the four months that I spent there.
Preet Bharara: But how did you get along with your peers after that?
Cynthia Deitle: I think what made it enjoyable and where the camaraderie came into play is, you’re all in this together. And as long as you are doing very well in firearms, and the academics, and the other requirements to become an FBI agent, the others are going to respect you. And I think that’s what I found early on. And there are many of them that I still keep in touch with, we’re still very good friends.
Preet Bharara: Was it difficult to break into civil rights work? Or did it just sort of, did you fall into it after like that was your intent?
Cynthia Deitle: I was very consistent in the academy about wanting to work civil rights and, a couple of days before I got to New York, the agent in the New York FBI, who places all the agents on different squads, came to me and said, “You’re not going to the civil rights squad.” And I said, “Why not?” He said, “No, no, no, that’s not … No, no, no.” First he said that was for older agents, more seasoned agents and I got that, that I understood. So I got to New York and I bounced around like most new agents do, to get kind of a lay of the land, and then I was put on a securities fraud squad doing white collar work for a year and I begged to do civil rights.
Preet Bharara: But can I ask you, do you credit the argument that there should be more senior folks on civil rights? What would be the reason for that?
Cynthia Deitle: I kept telling them, this is what I want to do, this is my background. I’ve studied this in law school, I’ve studied this in graduate school, please let me do this work. And, it took a year, and all of a sudden there was a spot open on the civil rights squad, and I was elated to be able to do the work. Just so excited.
Preet Bharara: And you did a lot of work with SDNY.
Cynthia Deitle: I did, I did many, many fine lawyers.
Preet Bharara: Yes. I know a bunch of them.
Cynthia Deitle: One of who I’m sitting across from.
Preet Bharara: People don’t always appreciate that law enforcement has multiple tasks, and among the things that they do, if they’re doing it right, is to be the agency that deals with violations by local police officers, hate crimes, and all sorts of things of that nature. Did you find that work was what it was cut out to be? Or were you sort of surprised by things?
Cynthia Deitle: I was very naïve, extreme … Does that shock you Preet?
Preet Bharara: No.
Cynthia Deitle: I was extremely naïve.
Preet Bharara: We all were, we all were once.
Cynthia Deitle: Yeah. Yeah. Very naive, I thought it was, and I still do, very noble and honorable work to be an FBI agent, working police brutality and hate crime. I didn’t know or appreciate the backlash I would get in the FBI office, or from NYPD officers, I just didn’t read realized that there would be others in law enforcement that wouldn’t like me too very much.
Preet Bharara: But what kind of … But it couldn’t have been all that way, you had to have some support.
Cynthia Deitle: Chiefs. Chiefs are who supported the work-
Preet Bharara: Prosecutors.
Cynthia Deitle: Prosecutors absolutely supported the work. But I think the difference between attorneys that you worked with and supervised in southern district, was they didn’t sit next to an NYPD detective like I did every day coming into work. You were isolated in your office, I was sitting next to, and eating lunch with members of NYPD, and with Nassau and Suffolk County Police departments and I didn’t realize how difficult that would be. It didn’t feel difficult for me, but I thought it felt difficult for them, I guess.
Preet Bharara: And did anybody ever try to stop a case that you were pursuing because they thought the FBI should leave the NYPD alone?
Cynthia Deitle: Never. That never happened. That never happened. There were some cases where the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division wasn’t crazy about some of my cases, but SDNY was or EDNY was and-
Preet Bharara: Why was Washington not crazy about the case? What cases? If you can say. I’m letting you off the hook.
Cynthia Deitle: Thank you for that one.
Preet Bharara: You paused, your brow farrowed-
Cynthia Deitle: I did.
Preet Bharara: I’m like I don’t want you to get in trouble, but you’re not in the FBI anymore, we can get to what you’re doing now, which is also amazing work. But, go ahead, spill your guts.
Cynthia Deitle: I think the one thing that we know is in the Civil Rights program, and even that you knew was, if you don’t think you’re going to win a trial, you might not want to bring that case. So there were some cases that the Civil Rights Division wasn’t crazy about, there was some cases that the Eastern District of New York wasn’t crazy about, or your predecessor at Southern District wasn’t crazy about. Sometimes there was a discrepancy on their view of, is this a righteous case? Should we bring this case? Should we let New York City Police Department bring it? What should we do? But I think overall, I think the right result occurred in these cases, I really do.
Preet Bharara: Is it harder in other ways, as a matter of not just support from your colleagues, but as a matter of proof and law, to bring a criminal case against a police officer who has exceeded their proper authority?
Cynthia Deitle: It’s exceedingly difficult to bring these cases, because most of our witnesses are law enforcement. So if the event happened in front of other law enforcement officers, it’s really difficult to convince them to do the right thing, and tell the truth about what they saw, or what they heard. That’s really, really hard to do. But, I think with many of these cases, it was harder for them to lie, than it was for them to tell the truth. I think they knew if they were going to lie, that was the worst thing to do, versus telling the truth and maybe getting one of their colleagues in trouble.
Preet Bharara: We didn’t overlap. You were working civil rights cases in New York before I became United States attorney. But in my experience doing these cases, there were still lots of folks who were prepared to falsify documents, not tell the truth until they knew that you really had them. And then, depending on what their background was, what the personality was, and what they thought about the risk to themselves of prosecution, you pull the one thread, and then all of a sudden you got four guys who are willing to tell you what happened in the incident. Was that your experience?
Cynthia Deitle: It was. Especially when the FBI and my colleagues would accumulate enough probative evidence, and then hit them with the grand jury subpoena. And that’s usually when the truth came out, was in the grand jury. That was an extremely powerful tool that FBI agents, and as you know, US Attorney’s use, all the time to get out the truth.
Preet Bharara: Remind folks who Abner Louima was.
Cynthia Deitle: Oh wow. Abner was a, is a very sweet man who was brutally attacked in the 70th precinct by a New York City Police Department officer in the late ’90s. The officer who perpetrated the attack against him is serving a 30 year sentence. I believe he’s still in Minnesota.
Preet Bharara: Can you describe, I know it’s gruesome, but we have some younger listeners who may not be from-
Cynthia Deitle: Sure.
Preet Bharara: … New York. Anybody who’s from around here remembers that case very, very well. What was the nature of the attack?
Cynthia Deitle: Abner and some of his friends were coming out of a Haitian nightclub in Brooklyn in Flatbush. And it was about 3:00, 4:00 in the morning, New York City Police Department officers were there, just to traffic control and make sure everyone got out of the club, everyone gets in their cars and goes home, everyone’s safe. A scuffle breaks out and officer Justin Volpe is hit across the face. He goes down, he comes back up, he looks around, he points at Mr. Louima and says, “You hit me.” And Mr. Louima correctly says, “No, I didn’t.” And he didn’t hit him. But officer Volpe gets his partner Charles Schwarz, they arrest Mr. Louima for attacking officer Volpe, they drive him to the 70th precinct. They put Mr. Louima in a holding cell for a brief moment after they book him.
Cynthia Deitle: These two officers bring him back out of his holding cell, they handcuff him behind his back, they take him to the precinct bathroom, they pull his pants down and they sodomize him with an object. Rupturing his rectum, his bladder, it was a horrific, horrific, brutal assault. They pull his pants back up, they throw him back in the cell, and they basically tell him, “That’s what you get for hitting a police officer.” Within a few hours, Mr. Louima’s picture in his hospital bed is on the front page of every single New York City newspaper.
Preet Bharara: And what were you doing at the time?
Cynthia Deitle: I was working on the civil rights squad, we were in Brooklyn, Queens at the time. And, I can still see that picture, I can still see that picture of him that was all over the newspapers. And-
Preet Bharara: And so you see the picture and given your placement in the FBI, what did you think was going to happen?
Cynthia Deitle: Well, first of all I thought, there’s no way that’s true. That is too brutal, and too horrific of a story to be true, that can’t be true.
Preet Bharara: And you thought that-
Cynthia Deitle: There’s no way that’s true.
Preet Bharara: And at that point you had spent some time investigating and helping to prosecute police brutality cases, so you’re not naive in the same way then.
Cynthia Deitle: No.
Preet Bharara: And even you thought, this can’t be true.
Cynthia Deitle: This can’t be true. And very quickly realized within the span of days, that it was a very true, and it was very real. I had the good fortune to spend years with Mr. Louima after the assault, and as you know, the time leading up to the trials, and grand jury preparation, and I spent a lot of time with him, and his family. And he is a very quiet and humble man who was extremely exceptionally brave in handling What happened to him.
Preet Bharara: You know it’s interesting that, the FBI took care in those cases, not only to help build the criminal prosecution and a successful one, which we can get into in a moment, but also made sure that there were people like you, who spent a lot of time on, I guess what people in the field called, victim assistance.
Cynthia Deitle: Victim assistance, yes.
Preet Bharara: Victim assistance. What’s that about and how important is that?
Cynthia Deitle: In, let’s see, probably about a year after I joined the Bureau, I was in, I just joined the civil rights squad. And, one of my supervisors came to me and just said, “Oh, by the way, you have a new tag, you are now going to be one of the two New York City FBI division victim assistants.” And I had no idea what that was. And I said, “I don’t understand what that is.” And he said, “It’s fine, you’ll learn, you’re fine.” Well, I didn’t want to just have a label and not know what I was doing so, I went to one of the FBI’s first victim assistance conferences, where they gathered all the victim assistance in the FBI to learn. I wanted to know what I was supposed to be doing.
Cynthia Deitle: And basically what the Victim Assistance Program is, is there’s at least one if not more victims advocates in every FBI office in the country. And these folks who are amazing, are there to make sure the victims of crime have their needs met, whatever those needs are. Whether it’s psychological services, medical services, lost wages, and to keep them informed of the criminal case as it works away through the system. They are tremendous human beings. These are folks that respond to Sandy Hook and Connecticut, they respond to terrorist incidents, they respond to bank robberies, they’re just amazing human beings who are with the victims on the worst day of their lives.
Preet Bharara: They’re very much unsung, again, just because you mentioned it, give a shout out to somebody who for years and years in SDNY, and maybe you know her Wendy Olsen.
Cynthia Deitle: Of course, yes.
Preet Bharara: Who was the person whose name was never in a newspaper article-
Cynthia Deitle: No.
Preet Bharara: … But she makes sure that if someone needs to get moved, they get moved. If they need clothing, they get clothing, if they need assistance from shelters or anyone, she gets it to them. And she did it in small cases that you never heard of, and she did it also with respect to the worst case you can imagine like 9/11. So, good to give a shout out to those folks.
Cynthia Deitle: They are quite the unsung heroes, yes.
Preet Bharara: And what did Abner Louima want and need?
Cynthia Deitle: Justice.
Preet Bharara: And what was justice for him?
Cynthia Deitle: That’s a great question. I asked him that numerous times, what do you want to see happen? And he wanted someone to be brought to account for what happened to him. He didn’t seem very vengeful, he didn’t seem like he was out for retribution, he just wanted the officers who perpetrated this vicious attack against him, to be held accountable, and to make sure that what happened to him never happened to anyone else again.
Preet Bharara: So after you learned that it was true, having thought it wasn’t, and having been in the business, how did that change you and your perspective on what people are capable of, and especially people in law enforcement?
Cynthia Deitle: The biggest lesson I learned from that case without question was, to pay attention to the victims. Having spent as much time with him as I did, he was vilified by the New York City Police Department. He was called all sorts of ugly, disparaging names. His reputation was dragged through the mud, he was accused of perpetrating the attack against himself, which that rumor was out there for a while to draw attention from what the officer had done to him. So he was just destroyed in the media, and he stayed strong through it all. But, I think like you, you investigate just horrible crimes are committed by government actors, state actors, law enforcement officials, and you realize well they’re people, they’re humans.
Cynthia Deitle: There are going to be human beings that join law enforcement agencies that will do bad things to people, and they need to be held to account. They’re no different than a bank robber, or anyone else who commits a crime, they have to be held to account for what they did.
Preet Bharara: You could argue that it’s more important to hold them to account because, they took an oath, and they have responsibility, and they have a lot of power, and they have weapons, et cetera, et cetera.
Cynthia Deitle: It’s what I learned when I was 13. If the government turns against the town people, it’s the worst thing that could happen.
Preet Bharara: So you did those kinds of cases, but you also have had a long and estimable career helping to bring prosecutions against people who are not in law enforcement, who engage in what we call often hate crimes. Crimes based on hatred of someone because of the color of their skin, or their religion, or their sexual orientation. What was that work like generally?
Cynthia Deitle: Extremely rewarding and very sad, all at the same time. Working hate crimes is so different than working police brutality, although as you know, hate crimes and police brutality come under that same civil rights umbrella in the Department of Justice and in the FBI.
Preet Bharara: So how are they different?
Cynthia Deitle: There’s no government actor usually, usually it’s a private citizen against a private citizen. But sometimes the way they’re similar is, sometimes law enforcement officials choose their victims based on race, religion, national origin, they choose someone to victimize based on who that person is. And the same thing holds true with hate crime. A perpetrator is going to target a certain individual, or certain piece of property, because of what that property symbolizes, or for who that person is. And that’s, I don’t know of a more destructive traumatic crime that somebody could be a survivor from. They’re being attacked just because of who they are, and something they can’t change. Again, it goes back to what’s the worst crime you could perpetrated against somebody, and picking on them for who they are is horrific.
Preet Bharara: Hear more of my conversation in just a moment.
Preet Bharara: So why do you think we need to have hate crime laws? We’ve had this discussion before, I used to have this conversation in jurisprudence classes in college and in law school. Because on the one hand, I think we need to have it but it’s important to have the conversation. Most things that people do that would constitute a hate crime are otherwise criminal also. If you shoot someone and kill them, that’s a homicide, it’s punishable in some places by the death penalty, and otherwise by life in prison. And if you shoot someone for money, you still get that maximum penalty, and if you shoot someone because you don’t like the color they are, should that be a separate crime? Why does society do that? And why is that important?
Cynthia Deitle: If you go back and look at history in the United States, and you look at Congress and why Congress passed certain laws that they did, early, early versions of hate crime laws, you see that the federal government decided right after slavery was abolished, that they needed to do something to protect the rights of freed slaves. They needed to do something to protect the rights of African Americans who had just earned their freedom following the end of the Civil War. And there’s early civil rights statutes from 1866 and 1870, and later in 1930s, the 1940s. But all of these statutes go at the heart of the federal government protecting people that the state’s refused to protect, especially after reconstruction and, red summer, after the First World War, and as you even get into the Civil Rights Movement.
Cynthia Deitle: It’s, the federal government felt compelled to really enforce the rule of law by protecting people the states would not otherwise protect. And that’s really the origin of hate crime laws. Whether you look at a federal hate crime law, or a state a crime law, it’s protecting people from any violence, or threats, or intimidation because of who they are. We believe as a society, that that is something that needs to be criminalized, I happen to agree with that.
Preet Bharara: How big is a hate crime problem in America?
Cynthia Deitle: I wish I knew Preet, I wish I knew.
Preet Bharara: Also that gets us to, are there issues with how we keep track of hate crimes, and how we monitor hate crimes? Local police departments don’t necessarily keep track of them, there’s a national database, sort of, which I think a lot of people think has a lot of under reporting in it, what do you think about the state of how we even keep track of this kind of thing?
Cynthia Deitle: So the FBI is in charge of the Uniform Crime report, which is a voluntary mechanism to gather crime data. So part of the crime data that the FBI gathers is hate crime data. And what the FBI does is they ask all law enforcement agencies in the country, to give the FBI their hate crime data, broken down granuraly with the motivation, the location where the crime occurred, and the FBI compiles all that data, and they spit it out to the public every year, although I think they’re a year behind. So that’s one way the FBI control track some data. The other way is through a Department of Justice collection mechanism called the National Crime Victimization Survey, again, it’s with the Department of Justice. And that’s more informal and it’s the Department of Justice asking crime victims, “Have you been a victim of a hate crime?”
Cynthia Deitle: If you look at the first set of data, the FBI Uniform Crime report, you see anywhere from 7,000 to 8,000 hate crimes that are reported every year, and 2018 the last year for which we have data is no different. If you look at the National Crime Victimization Survey, you’ll see that there’s about 250,000 incidents of hate crimes in United States. Do we have 250,000, or do we have 7,000, or something in the middle? Even if you look at the National Crime Victimization Survey, you see, I believe it’s about 15,000 of those crimes, were validated by law enforcement, and law enforcement said, “Yes, those were hate crimes.” So now if you break it down, you say it’s 15,000 versus 7,000, or less, or more, or not, how do you know? These are both voluntary collection mechanisms.
Cynthia Deitle: So, I will offer this to you Preet, if you would like to live in a hate free state, I would encourage you to live in Alabama, or Wyoming. Because they reported-
Preet Bharara: Because it doesn’t happen there.
Cynthia Deitle: … There’s no hate there. They reported zero hate crimes, as did about 88% of all law enforcement agencies in the US report, there’s no hate. There’s no hate in their jurisdiction.
Preet Bharara: So how do we get better at that?
Cynthia Deitle: Make it mandatory. Make it mandatory. There needs to be a federal law that forces law enforcement agencies to report their hate crime data to the FBI, it has to be mandatory. And there has to be some type of penalty for not reporting. If there’s no-
Preet Bharara: What kind of penalty could you prescribe? Not giving certain kinds of funds?
Cynthia Deitle: That’s an easy one, I think that’s a very-
Preet Bharara: Not to punish local law enforcement.
Cynthia Deitle: I don’t want to punish them either. But, I think if you … It’s a carrot in the stick. If you give us your data, you get a whole bunch of funding from DOJ, which is a good thing, they need the money.
Preet Bharara: Here’s how you put it once, which I thought was very eloquent. You said, “Hate destroys everyone it touches: the victim, the perpetrator, their families, and the community. When a hate crime is committed, the victim is hurt, traumatized, fearful, and is forever changed. The perpetrator and his family however, are often overlooked when it comes to examining the fallout from a bias incident. So you got to be mindful of them also, that’s not how people often think about the approach to crime, thinking about the perpetrator and the perpetrators family.” How do you think about that?
Cynthia Deitle: I’ve talked to many white supremacists, especially during my time in New York, who perpetrated vicious attacks against African Americans, and against Latinos. I spent time with them, and I wanted to understand, I wanted to figure out, how did we get to this moment in time where you as the subject, you as the perpetrator felt the need, you felt empowered, you felt that it was going to be okay if you attacked this person because he was African American or he was Puerto Rican. How did we get here? What happened to you that you felt it was okay? So I spent time-
Preet Bharara: And what’s the answer? What are the answers you get?
Cynthia Deitle: It’s the same answer that so many other people who look at this problem of hate come to. Which is, you’re not born hating, you’re not. Nobody pops out of a womb and says, “I am going to hate everyone who’s Muslim. I’m going to hate people who are different than me.” No one starts their life that way. They start wanting love, and wanting closeness, and gentle touches and attention. Yet what they are exposed to by their parents, by television, by their classmates, by their church groups, by their communities on the basketball court, what they’re exposed to is going to shape who they become, and how they see other people in the world. So if they’re exposed to acceptance, and they’re exposed to a lot of belief that there’s a value in the different and people, that’s what they grow up believing.
Cynthia Deitle: If they’re taught that being different is bad, that being an other is bad, then that just perpetuates and gets bigger, and stronger as they go through their lives, and sometimes it’ll manifest itself into violence.
Preet Bharara: So there’s lots of people who hate, and who are biases and who are bigoted, a subset of them engage in violence. Is there anything that you’ve discovered in your work and in your training, where there’s a common theme among the people who decided to translate their bigotry into actual violence against other human beings?
Cynthia Deitle: Many perpetrators of hate violence I’ve spoken to and I’ve met were victims of violence themselves. Whether it was from their father, or their uncle, or a neighborhood bully, or someone in school, they were a victim of violence to begin with. And they knew they never wanted to be on that side of a violent incident again. They wanted to be perpetrator instead of the victim. A lot of the cases I dealt with, the subjects were very troubled, very troubled people, and they were fighting their own demons from within. And they felt compelled almost, to carry out some of these attacks. And sometimes it’s with a little bit of alcohol encouragement. But, they felt the need to do this.
Preet Bharara: When you’ve sat down with, for example, white supremacists, are you just in listening mode, and wanting to learn and understand so you could think about your job, and think about the country and how to make it better? Or do you spend any of your time, or is that outside your role? Do you spend any of your time trying to show them the error of their ways? I’m trying to understand what are … How you thought of your role, and whether you had an urge to do that, and if that’s counterproductive or not, and how did you go about that?
Cynthia Deitle: The first time I thought I could convince someone that they were wrong, and that I was showing them the way forward was my very first former NYPD sergeant that I arrested for brutality. And, we were in the Marshall lockup in the Eastern District of New York, and I remember hanging onto the bars and asking him, how he could have committed this horrific act of violence against this young kid. And I was shocked, I was very naive, I got nowhere with him. But-
Preet Bharara: So then you stopped?
Cynthia Deitle: … It was my first time then I stopped. But I wanted to know how this could happen, and I think as I got older and more seasoned as an FBI agent, I stopped talking and started listening. And I learned the beauty of just listening, try to understand, instead of convert, that there was a value there. And sometimes, if you just shut up and listen, you might hear an opening, you might hear the door opening, or just a little bit of curiosity on their part, that they’re willing to engage and try to figure out well, how did we come to this point in time? And then you can try to get through that door, and talk a little bit.
Preet Bharara: Did you ever come across people who in the aftermath of perpetrating violence, had some kind of revelation and thought, “Boy, I don’t know what I was thinking.”
Cynthia Deitle: Yes. And that sometimes occurred more often with young people who perpetrated hate crimes and, there’s a gentleman I spent time with in New York who had committed a hate crime, and pled guilty to federal charges. And, I was with him and his wife, and his young daughter, and he started going down that road with me of, this was really dumb. I have a wife, I have a little girl, this was really dumb, I should have thought ahead before I did this. What is my daughter going to think of me now? So I do think there’s, sometimes there’s redemption, there’s revelations, there’s gee, I really shouldn’t have done that.
Preet Bharara: But you see an interesting thing as you talk about the people who engage in this kind of horrible, some might say evil conduct.
Cynthia Deitle: Yeah.
Preet Bharara: That they have a lot of issues too. And so what’s your advice to the public for how they should think about people who in their bigotry commit acts of violence against, and sometimes, massacres not just vandalism. Hate them, be angry at them, hold them in contempt, feel some empathy for them, throw away the key. When these things happen and they devastate communities, the Jewish community, or the LGBT community, whatever the case is, it’s very hard for the community to understand how to feel about the person who took so much away from the community. How should they?
Cynthia Deitle: I think you have to at least engage in a conversation with people on the other side. So for me it was, as an FBI agent who’s on the other side, usually somebody I’ve arrested, or someone I’m interrogating but, I always thought there was immense value to just simply engaging in a conversation to figure out, why did you do what you did, to the extent that they would tell me that but, why did you do what you did? And one I, you know as the agent, you want to put the puzzle pieces together so I was curious. But the other reason was, if I learned from you, can I teach others how not to do what you did? Or can you help me to teach others not to do what you did? I think if we just don’t ask the questions of what we think of as the bad guys, we lose the opportunity to figure out, how can we stop this from happening in the future?
Cynthia Deitle: What happened to you in your life that brought you to this moment? Can we cut off the next person at the past, to make sure that never happens again? So I think you have to at least be human and engage in these conversations.
Preet Bharara: There have been cases where, someone who’s a victim of unspeakable violence, or a community that’s a victim of unspeakable violence, engage in an act of grace, sometimes in the form of actual forgiveness, or the consideration of mercy. Have you seen that happen? Does that startle you?
Cynthia Deitle: There weren’t many but there were a good number of of victims in New York on 9/11. I learned from some victims of the Boston Marathon bombing when I was in Boston as an FBI agent, I learned that there was a good number of people that what they wanted for themselves was to forgive the person who perpetrated the attack. Not to let that person off the hook or to say, you’re not responsible for your actions, but it was simply for the victim and the survivor to say, I’m going to make peace with this, I forgive you for what you did, I need to forgive you for what you did so I can go on with my life, and I can handle this in a way that makes sense to me.
Cynthia Deitle: And, I loved talking to the survivors because. the way you described it was very accurate. it’s graceful. It’s very humbling, it’s very graceful and it’s a very, I think for them, it’s a very healing and it’s the one way they can continue with their lives because they have to continue, they have to continue with their lives.
Preet Bharara: You have to be able to go on.
Cynthia Deitle: You have to.
Preet Bharara: We talked about Abner Louima and other victims that you became familiar with. There’s another name that I want to mention, and it relates to what you do now. And it’s a very important story for lots and lots of people. And the name is Matthew Shepard.
Cynthia Deitle: Yes.
Preet Bharara: And you left the FBI not that long ago, and you are now the programs and operations director of the Matthew Shepard Foundation.
Cynthia Deitle: Yes.
Preet Bharara: Who was a victim of one of the worst acts of violence based on hate, in recent memory in the country. And was kind of like a galvanizing catalyst for some change in a passage of a law in his name. Remind folks who Matthew Shepard was?
Cynthia Deitle: Well, thank you for asking. Matthew was a 21 year old University of Wyoming college student in 1998 in October, when he was brutally murdered for being gay. He lived overseas for a time in Saudi Arabia with his parents, he went to school in different parts of the United States, he was loved, loved by his family and by his friends. In fact, one of his friends, Michelle Josue produced a documentary called Matt Shepard Is a Friend of Mine, that details his life with his friends, which is just an exceptional movie. But he, in October 1998, he decided, as I guess many college students do, that he wanted to go have a beer at a local bar before he continued his studies, although I wonder if he did really think he was going to continue his studies.
Cynthia Deitle: But he went to the fireside lounge outside of Laramie, and there were two individuals at the bar, Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney who pretended to be his friend to rob him. They thought that he had some nice clothes on, they thought he was gay, they thought he’d have money. They thought they were going to rob him. So they befriended him, they took him outside of the bar, they offered to give him a ride home. They did not, once he was in their truck, they beat him violently, they took him to a location outside of town. They tied him to a buckrail fence, beat him again with a 357 Magnum, and left him to die. Which he passed away six days later.
Preet Bharara: So I’m old enough to remember when that happened.
Cynthia Deitle: I remember it as well.
Preet Bharara: What happened in the country in the wake of that killing?
Cynthia Deitle: If you go back and look at the news feeds from October 1998, Matt Shepard’s picture and the picture of his parents Dennis and Judy Shepard were everywhere. They were everywhere, they were on every news channel, the cover of every newspaper, the country I think besides just being in shock and being in mourning, I don’t think could wrap their head around how this beautiful, blonde haired, blue eyed, college student could be violently murdered because he was gay.
Preet Bharara: What’s interesting in the country and in the world, is how you can have lots of incidents of something, but then one comes along and that becomes the thing that maybe causes people to focus. He was not the first innocent gay or lesbian person who was killed for who they were, and yet for some reason, Matthew Shepard became the symbol for something that caused some change. Why do you think that is?
Cynthia Deitle: I think a couple reasons. The crime itself was so horrific, and he lingered in the hospital for several days before he passed away, and that gave the, I think, gave the news channels time to really cover his story. I think the other reason that just the story lives on today, 21 years later, is because of the work of his parents. And Dennis and Judy Shepard could have crawled into a hole in their basement and never came out, and decided “We’re going to grieve alone and never share the story again,” and they chose to do the exact opposite. They wanted to do everything in their power, to make sure that what happened to their son would never happen to anyone else in this country.
Cynthia Deitle: And, they have spoken all over the world to share their story which, I don’t know how they can talk about what happened to their son numerous times, every week, for 21 years, I don’t know how they do it. But I don’t know if you remember the story but, they have a very fond memory of meeting you in the FBI office in New York. And one of the things that struck Dennis about meeting you when you were US Attorney, you came to a hate crime seminar where Dennis spoke. And, one of the things that he took away from you being there was, you sat and listened. And here you were, you were the US Attorney in Manhattan, and you sat in the front row and you listened. And you came up to Dennis at the end, and you thanked him for his remarks, and you express your gratitude as to what he said, and Dennis always says that you asked permission to steal some of his lines, is what he said.
Cynthia Deitle: But it really struck them that you listened to their story, and you were captivated by their story. And I think that really speaks to what, how their message has resonated with so many people across the world as you listen.
Preet Bharara: There’s another time long ago that Dennis Shepard spoke, which is very compelling, and I’ll tell you a story about that also, but I don’t know if people appreciate. He spoke at the sentencing of the men who killed his son. I mean I’ve seen a lot of victims speak, and read transcripts of victims speaking, and victims families speaking, after horrible, heinous things have been done, he spoke with a particular eloquence. Which I think resonated and he talked about mercy and grace, and forgiveness as well, in the way that we discussed, so he could go on with his life. And, something that I’ve mentioned to folks who pay attention to the show, one thing I do is, I go and I judge at speech tournaments. And there’s a category of speech called declamation, which is the giving of a speech that someone else has given.
Preet Bharara: And these are kids, as young as 14 to 15, and going up to about 16 or 17. And on numerous occasions, at least four times, the speech that a student in high school, kid has decided to give, is an excerpt from what Dennis Shepard said at the sentencing of the people who killed his son. Which is a heavy thing for kids to be reciting, and talking about, and speaking through his voice. Of a father about the son. And these are kids themselves, who won’t themselves have kids, presumably for a long time. So he’s had an impact not just on the law, not just on the public psyche, but also his words in court are recited by children all over the country, because they find that they resonate. How you like that?
Cynthia Deitle: He’s going to love hearing that story. He’s going to love hearing that. And I think the Laramie project, the play, is I think the other vehicle that tells the story, and that’s been produced thousands, upon thousands of times in the world. Is it’s a way to tell Matt’s story through the people who lived it, and not just Dennis and Judy Shepard. They’re quite the force, they’re quite the advocates. They’re amazing people.
Preet Bharara: So then about a decade after Matt Shepard was killed, Congress passed and the President signed, President Obama signed into law, The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. James Byrd, which is also mentioned was a victim of a crime himself. So both names are on the law, why take so long to pass that law?
Cynthia Deitle: Well the law took about 14 years to get signed by a president. It had been blocked for years, and years, and years, and thanks to the work of Senator Kennedy and Senator Gordon Smith, it finally got passed. But, there were many congressmen and women who blocked it because they saw it as special rights for special people. They saw it as a way to make certain people getting better rights than other people. And another very, very real reason was, there are many congressmen and women that did not want to recognize members of the LGBTQ community, and did not want LGBTQ wording and phrasing, to be covered under federal criminal civil rights statutes. So it was blocked, blocked, and blocked.
Cynthia Deitle: But, you’re correct, so in June of 1998, the same year that Matt Shepard was attacked and killed, James Byrd was attacked and killed because he was African American in Jasper, Texas. And not until we had President Obama came into office that this law finally made it to becoming a reality.
Preet Bharara: I want to fast forward another 10 years, on the 10 year anniversary of that law being passed, there’s occasion for there to be a commemoration of it, in a place that I spent a lot of time, the Department of Justice in the Great Hall. Describe what happened.
Cynthia Deitle: Inches McLean getaway Preet.
Preet Bharara: [inaudible 00:54:20].
Cynthia Deitle: No I’m happy to talk about it, it was a very interesting moment say the least. So, Dennis and Judy Shepard were not there, they had a prior engagement, they could not attend, they would have attended, they would have attended. But we were asked by, the Matthew Shepard Foundation and was asked by the Department of Justice to come and give just a few remarks commemorating the 10 year anniversary of the law. Remarks were read by James Byrd’s family and, I was there as representative from the Shepard Foundation to read a letter from Dennis and Judy Shepard, which I did. The Shepard’s had been asked to send some remarks several months before that date and, Dennis said, “We can’t go, could you go for us?” And I said, I would be honored to read your letter.
Cynthia Deitle: And the first letter that Dennis sent me, suffice it to say, my response back to Dennis was, you can’t say that. I can’t, please don’t, oh, God, you can’t say that-
Preet Bharara: Because why?
Cynthia Deitle: You can’t say that. What the Shepard’s wanted to communicate more than anything else were two things in their remarks. One was to express their gratitude to the line attorneys, the career attorneys at the Department of Justice for enforcing what they see as their sons law, their son’s legacy. And many of these attorneys are their friends, and they’re my friends. And they just wanted to say thank you for their dedication, and for their commitment to enforcing the rule of law, by enforcing this statute. That was the first thing they wanted to communicate. The other thing was to express their extreme displeasure at the Attorney General, for not protecting the rights of all Americans in this country, and especially the rights of transgender individuals.
Cynthia Deitle: They didn’t see that it was fair to argue against protecting the rights of trans individuals in certain federal cases before the Supreme Court-
Preet Bharara: As they are doing.
Cynthia Deitle: … As they are doing, and also to commemorate the 10 year anniversary of the Shepard Byrd Hate Crime law. They didn’t see that those two stances by the Department of Justice were in alignment with each other. What Dennis kept telling me is, “You can’t have it both ways. You can’t tell the Supreme Court that trans individuals have no rights, and yet be proud of 10 years of Shepard Byrd, you can’t do it the same way.” The Shepard’s remarks went through many, many, many rewrites, and a lot of very, how shall we say? Animated conversations between Dennis and I. But, at the end of it I kept telling him, I will read what you write, I will read what you write, this is about you, this is not about me.
Cynthia Deitle: And, so I read their remarks which was, as you know, from your prior position, being in the Great Hall, the Department of Justice is awe inspiring. It’s very reverential to me, it’s just an amazing location to be in. And, the last thing I wanted to do in any way was to disrespect the Great Hall and to disrespect the Department of Justice as a whole. as an entity. So, some of those remarks were a little difficult to read.
Preet Bharara: And then so in the final draft, you did say the following, on behalf of Matt’s parents.
Cynthia Deitle: We find it interesting and hypocritical that he would invite us to this event, commemorating a hate crime law named after our son and Mr. Byrd. Well, at the same time asking the Supreme Court to allow the legalized firing of transgender employees. Mr. Barr, you cannot have it both ways.
Preet Bharara: What was the reaction when you said that and at the end of your talk?
Cynthia Deitle: Well, the audience in the Great Hall, the first I would say, one quarter to one third of the audience were members of the Department of Justice, and the FBI, and their invited guests. The rest of the Great Hall were private citizens who came to watch. And there was intermittent applause, I think when that line was, when I read that one piece. And at the end, the three quarters of the room stood up and cheered, and clapped, and screamed, and hollered, and I quite certain I cried all the way back to my seat. That was not the reaction I thought I wasn’t going to get. I thought it would be, I would have heard a pin drop, and I would have gone back to my seat and hung my head and, it would have been over. But, I think the speech, it spoke to the people in the back of the room who were there to commemorate the law.
Cynthia Deitle: It spoke to them, it spoke to what they saw as justice, whether it was justice for Matt Shepard, or James Byrd, or any victims of hate crime, and what that law symbolizes to so many people. And, it also just, I think it spoke to what they saw as the Department of Justice, maybe going down a bad road.
Preet Bharara: So we passed that law, took a long time, there are other laws that people think about passing, there are other tools, we think about giving to dedicated agents like you, to prosecute hate crimes, and to educate about hate crimes. So if we do more of that we’ll solve the hate problem, right? This gets to the ultimate problem, right? The people put on law enforcement, sometimes, intractable problems of society, whether it’s corruption, or in this case, something that’s very difficult that we’ve been, since human beings have been gathering even before the social contract probably, how you stop people from hating other people based on who they are. I can’t think of anybody better to ask than you, although you’ve applied those skills in a particular way, based on the job you had, and holding people accountable for acting out in a particular way, but that’s not going to solve the problem.
Preet Bharara: More prosecutors, more FBI agents can help. I mean I don’t even know if hate crimes are particularly terrible, because you’re talking about a mindset on the part of some folks. I don’t know if they’re thinking, before I do something like this, it’s going to add some time to my sentence if you’re acting out of some bigotry and rage, and yet we do it because we’re making a statement, and we’re holding people accountable, and we’re causing people not to be as invisible as they have been for a long time, and recognizing the special terrorism that these cases, and these acts symbolize. But how are we going to make the country better beyond simply prosecuting these things?
Cynthia Deitle: The two answers that I’ve come up with are, I don’t know, and I’m not sure. But, I think it’s big picture, little picture. So the big picture is, who are our leaders? Whether it’s our president, our attorney general, our governor, our mayor, who are the leaders that we are putting in office and do those people profess attitudes of acceptance and equity or not? So I think it’s the big picture issue, and it’s little picture. So, what I often tell law enforcement officials that I train on hate crimes, as well as prosecutors is, I know you all go to cocktail parties, I know you all go to dinner with your friends, you all go to bars, you’ll hang out with your friends. This might come as a shock to you Preet, but lawyers have a tendency to talk about their cases, and about their careers, and police officers do the same thing, right?
Cynthia Deitle: Well, it’s the opportunity to share stories that are impactful and meaningful to you. So it’s taking the time to share a story, not just about this funny bank robbery case that I have, it’s a chance to share a story about yourself, and how something about you, made your journey and your upbringing, interesting and valuable. So you talk about your background as an Indian American. I talk about my background, my grandparents were from Mexico, I talk about who I am and what makes me an other to you, in every chance that I get. It’s really difficult to hate someone whose story that you know, because you heard them. So it would be really. well, I hope this has never happened to you. But it would be very hard for you to have a conversation with somebody about your background, Preet, and have them still hate you.
Cynthia Deitle: If they talk to you in person and get to know you, if they’re open to listening to your story. And I think that’s that granular, drilling down into these person to person conversations, and just being human with each other, that you can learn about, what makes us all unique and different, and beautiful at the same time? And it sounds like I’m back to being that 13 year old, idealistic kid-
Preet Bharara: Well we could we could use some-
Cynthia Deitle: … In Akron, Ohio, but I think that’s what it is. It’s being human with each other. And, you didn’t have to tell your story, you could have just started your story when you were the US Attorney in the Southern District of New York, and that could just be your story, but you don’t. You talk about your past, and about your childhood, and about your family, and it makes you human, and interesting, and valuable, and different. And it breaks down all those barriers to being different, and makes us more of one.
Preet Bharara: That’s very well put. At the risk of ending not as optimistically as I might, and I reserve the right to cut this part out.
Cynthia Deitle: It has to end optimistically.
Preet Bharara: But do you think we’re doing better? I mean, all signs point to anti Semitism being on the rise.
Cynthia Deitle: Sure.
Preet Bharara: Anti immigrant feeling being on the rise, anti muslim feeling being on the rise. All these incidents in anti Semitism, one of the things that prompted my thinking about having guests like you on the show more in these months, has been these attacks on members of the Jewish community. I saw a statistic somewhere that said, half of the hate crimes in the New York area last year, were against members of the Jewish community. I don’t know if that’s a big picture problem, or small picture problem, or both, but you’d like to think that as years go by, as Matthew Shepard caused people to think about what are we doing in our society, and a law gets passed and another 10 years go by that the trend line should be positive? What is the trend line?
Cynthia Deitle: I think the trend line is clearly indicating that hate crimes are going to increase. We’ve seen that in the last couple of years. The statistics are, they’re harrowing. Attacks against the Latino community, against the Sikh community, against the LGBT community, you just, even the ones that are reported, you see that the arc is rising year after year. I think the other way to address the instance of hate crime is, obviously if there’s, you know, it’s the same thing that we knew living in New York on 9/11. I mean if you see something, say something, right? So teachers that see a student who is drawing swastikas in his notebook, I think should probably have a conversation with that teacher.
Cynthia Deitle: So trying to catch these kids early on in their lives, who are demonstrating and exhibiting hateful behavior against certain people, I think that has to be addressed. But I think that law enforcement officials, and this does not apply to New York City Police Department, who they do a great job with us but, there are so many other police departments that don’t train their officers on how to identify, investigate and prosecute hate crime. Preet I’ve been doing this for too long, and I still get the same answer when I ask the same question of law enforcement which is, when there is a swastika on a synagogue, and you have that call for service officer, what do you see when you arrive?
Cynthia Deitle: More often than not that officer says, “Graffiti.” And I’ll say, “Okay, right, and then what else do you see?” And he’ll say, “Vandalism.” Okay, let’s, there’s one more thing. One more one, say it. And sometimes the officer just doesn’t see that that’s an expression of hate. So I think it’s also a training issue, as well as just trying to catch these kids before they become a problem for your colleagues at the US Attorney’s Office or mine in the FBI.
Preet Bharara: Cynthia Deitle it’s been great to have you on the show. Before I let you go though-
Cynthia Deitle: Please.
Preet Bharara: I want to thank you for all your work for the country, and for the betterment of all of us. And continuing that service, even though you’re not in law enforcement anymore, at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, it’s a great organization. If people wanted to be supportive of the Matthew Shepard Foundation, how might they do that?
Cynthia Deitle: You could follow us on social media, we are all over social media. Matthewshepard.org is our website, we’re on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and we will happily accept the millions of dollars in donation we will get after your podcast.
Preet Bharara: They need it, they need it.
Cynthia Deitle: They need it.
Preet Bharara: I mean it’s a fundamental issue as we think about all sorts of other things happening, including with our politics and the coronavirus, and everything else, if we don’t figure out a way, as you have dedicated your career to, figuring how we can get along and respect people for who they are, and not hate them, and allow them to be harmed because of who they are, then we’re kind of lost. So thank you again, it’s been an honor to have you on the show.
Cynthia Deitle: It has been an honor to be here and I want to thank you for your work not just as a US Attorney but, also your work now. You’re a storyteller and that is meaningful in and of itself. So thank you for bringing people on your show to tell their story, makes a big difference.
Preet Bharara: Thank you.
Preet Bharara: The conversation continues for members of Cafe Insider. To hear the stay tuned bonus with Cynthia Deitle, and get the exclusive weekly Cafe Insider podcast and other exclusive content, head to cafe.com/insider. Right now you can try a Cafe Insider membership free for two weeks at cafe.com/insider. Well that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, Cynthia Deitle. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen/ Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me at Preet Bharara with the hashtag askpreet. Or you can call and leave me a message at 669-247-7338 that’s 669-24-Preet. or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay Tuned is presented by Cafe.
Preet Bharara: The executive producer is Tamara Sepper, the senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the Cafe team is Julia Doyle, Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Calvin Lord, Sam Ozer-Staton and Jeff Eisenmann. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, stay tuned.