The U.S. Justice Department is taking new steps to raise awareness about hate crimes and to help states develop hotlines for reporting bias incidents, as federal prosecutors continue to investigate last weekend’s deadly shooting in Buffalo, New York.
Three top leaders at the DOJ are set to unveil new guidelines and $10 million in new federal grants at an event in Washington on Friday, where they will appear alongside family members of people slain in hate-fueled incidents.
"Throughout our history, and to this day, hate crimes have a singular impact because of the terror and fear they inflict on entire communities," said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland in a statement. "No one in this country should have to fear the threat of hate fueled violence. The Justice Department will continue to use every resource at its disposal to confront unlawful acts of hate, and to hold accountable those who perpetrate them."
The FBI reported a disturbing rise in hate crimes against Black and Asian Americans in 2020, the most recent year for which data is available. The Justice Department has convicted more than 30 defendants on federal hate crime charges since January 2021, but experts said the vast majority of bias crimes go unreported to authorities.
The Biden administration's new action is intended to reach out to people who don't speak English and people who have limited access to the Internet.
The Justice Department's new head of the Office of Access to Justice, Rachel Rossi, had previously coordinated a response to hate crimes in the government and will continue to offer oversight on those issues. Rossi is a former public defender and Capitol Hill aide with deep experience in criminal justice policy issues.
"Equal justice under the law, regardless of wealth or status, is a core principle of our American democracy," said Miriam Krinsky, the leader of the advocacy group Fair and Just Prosecution. "Ms. Rossi's appointment and the reopening of the Access to Justice office are important steps toward living up to that ideal."
Leaders in the civil rights community are pushing the Justice Department and other cabinet agencies to take more aggressive action.
This week, the NAACP released a plan calling on the administration to do more to police social media companies that fail to address hateful and violent content on their sites, and to push Congress to pass gun safety measures. NAACP President Derrick Johnson also urged President Biden to advance a long-awaited executive order on police reform in time for the second anniversary of the death of George Floyd at the hands of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin next week.
"We're focused on preventing the next attack. We need to act. Democracy and white supremacy cannot coexist, and will never coexist. It's one or the other. We're fighting for democracy," the NAACP's Johnson said.
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