WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday directed the Justice Department to expand funding and other resources to states and municipalities to help track and investigate hate crimes, and ordered prosecutors to step up both criminal and civil investigations into hate incidents.
In a memo to Justice Department employees, Garland said that Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta will assign someone to coordinate and serve as a central “hub” on hate crimes by working with prosecutors, law enforcement and community groups to ensure there are adequate resources to investigate and track hate crimes.
“Hate crimes and other bias-related incidents instill fear across entire communities and undermine the principles upon which our democracy stands,” Garland said in his memo.
“All people in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they are from, what they look like, whom they love, or how they worship.”
Garland’s memo comes at a time when Asian Americans have faced an increase in attacks and racist encounters since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, when then-President Donald Trump first started blaming the virus on China.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which designates a Justice Department employee to expedite a review of hate crimes reported to police during the pandemic.
In March, Garland announced he was launching a 30-day expedited review to explore ways the department could improve efforts to prosecute hate crimes and collect better data.
Thursday’s memo implements some requirements in the law, as well as some recommendations from the prior review.
Garland’s memo on Thursday also designates an official who will be tasked with expediting the review of hate crimes and calls on U.S. Attorneys offices to assign local criminal and civil prosecutors to serve as civil rights coordinators.
“Acts of hate do not always rise to the level of federal hate crimes, but such hate incidents still have a destructive effect on our communities. Federal civil statutes sometimes provide remedies when federal hate crime statutes do not,” Garland wrote.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Marguerita Choy)