Attorney General Merrick Garland is calling for the appointment of a Justice Department coordinator to oversee hate crime enforcement strategy as part of the government’s response to a surge in hate-related offenses across the country, according a Justice directive released Thursday.
The coordinator, to be named by Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, will be charged with ensuring that federal and local law enforcement authorities have adequate training to respond to hate incidents in their jurisdictions.
“The coordinator will serve as the central hub for Department attorneys, law enforcement partners, community organizations, and other stakeholders,” according to the four-page memorandum.
As part of the strategy, Garland also is naming the criminal chief for the department’s Civil Rights Division to expedite the review of hate crime offenses.
“These actions will enhance our current efforts to combat unlawful acts of hate by improving incident reporting, increasing law enforcement training and coordination at all levels of government,” Garland’s memo states. “All of these steps share common objectives: deterring hate crimes and bias-related incidents, addressing them when they occur, supporting those victimized by them, and reducing the pernicious effects these incidents have on our society.”
Another part of the Justice strategy will include a reinvigoration of the department’s Community Relations Service, known as the “peacemaker” program which for decades has mediated racial, ethnic and gender clashes.
The proposal represents a reversal from the Trump administration which repeatedly sought to eliminate the long-standing Justice unit.
For four straight years, the CRS, established nearly 60 years ago by the landmark Civil Rights Act, was variously targeted for severe staffing reductions and outright elimination, according to Trump budget proposals.
Congressional intervention kept the unit afloat despite the Trump administration’s efforts.
The Justice directive also comes a week after President Joe Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which included provisions mandating the Justice Department to coordinate efforts to track hate offenses and respond to them more expeditiously.
Garland ordered a 30-day review of hate crime strategy in March, citing an “urgent” need to assess the government’s capacity to track and prosecute hate-related offenses surging across the country.
“The recent rise in hate crime and hate incidents, particularly the disturbing trend in reports of violence against members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander community since the start of the pandemic, requires renewed energy,” Garland said when launching the review in March.
The Justice review was launched shortly after the March mass shooting in Georgia, where six of eight victims were of Asian descent.
Last month, federal prosecutors charged three white men with hate crimes for the death of Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot and killed in broad daylight while jogging just 2 miles from his Georgia home and whose 2020 death triggered a nationwide outcry over violence against Black victims.
Three men – Travis McMichael, 35; his father, Gregory McMichael, 65; and William “Roddie” Bryan, 51 – were charged with targeting and threatening Arbery because of his race. Arbery was Black.
Arbery, 25, was killed in Brunswick, Georgia, on Feb. 23, 2020. Federal prosecutors said Travis and Gregory McMichael, both armed, got into a truck and chased Arbery while yelling at him. Bryan then joined the chase in his truck, and all three tried to detain Arbery against his will, prosecutors said.
Garland has characterized the slayings as having “shaken our communities, torn at our social fabric and undercut our most basic values.”
The Justice review examined the federal government’s capacity to track and identify hate incidents; weigh the use of civil enforcement authority to respond to incidents of bias that do not rise to actual hate crimes; and assess whether additional money is needed to support law enforcement’s response.
Contributing: Kristine Phillips