WASHINGTON (CN) — Attorney General Merrick Garland on Thursday announced that the Department of Justice is expanding its hate crime reporting efforts and that it will not hold back when it comes to holding perpetrators accountable.
Speaking at a panel discussion during the White House Hate Crimes Summit, Garland said the department is expanding its United Against Hate program into all 94 U.S. attorney's offices nationwide within the next year. The outreach training program aims to help people identify and prevent hate crimes while bolstering relationships with law enforcement.
In announcing the move, Garland said the DOJ does not investigate or prosecute people because of their ideology or “the views they hold.”
“But in our democracy, people are not entitled to commit violent acts or make unlawful violent threats motivated by bias or hate,” Garland said.
He continued, “The Justice Department will not hesitate to hold accountable people who do so.”
Garland, who was appointed by President Joe Biden and has led the department since March 2021, brought up securing the convictions earlier this year of three men who killed Ahmaud Arbery, which he said happened “just because he was a Black man jogging on a public street.”
He also highlighted the conviction of Jose Gomez of Texas, who pleaded guilty to charges for attacking an Asian family, and Raymond Fehring of New York, who mailed more than 60 letters to LGBTQ-affiliated people and organizations “many of which contain threats to kill, shoot and bomb the recipients.”
“And we also obtained the conviction of a man in Tennessee for a series of arsons targeting Catholic, Methodist and Baptist churches in the state,” Garland said.
Department of Justice statistics show more than 40 people have been charged with bias-motivated crimes between January 2021 and May 2022, resulting in more than 35 convictions.
“But we also recognize that prosecutions alone are not enough,” Garland said, which is why the department is adding the United Against Hate program to every federal prosecutor's office.
Pilot programs have already been successfully completed at the U.S. attorney's offices for Massachusetts, New Jersey and the Eastern District of Washington, he said.
The New Jersey office describes its participation in the program as deepening connections with local community members, advocacy groups and other federal and state agencies “to protect civil rights.”
One month before New Jersey was selected in August as one of the three districts for the pilot program, U.S. Attorney Philip Sellinger announced the creation of a civil rights division within the office. The newly minted division was put in charge of implementing the United Against Hate initiative, according to the offices website.
Garland said Thursday that the DOJ's civil rights division and FBI play an important role in the initiative.
Over the last year, the FBI has launched a National Anti-Hate Crimes campaign with billboards, radio and social media advertisements. Civil rights violations and hate crimes enforcement have been elevated in priority across all 56 of its field offices, according to the Department of Justice website, and at least one assistant U.S. attorney has been assigned to serve as a civil rights coordinator in each of the 94 federal prosecutor offices.
In closing his remarks on Thursday, Garland said that “confronting unlawful acts of hate is complex and difficult work.”
“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, who they love, how they worship, or what they believe,” he said.
The Justice Department “will never stop working toward that end,” he added.
Susan Rice, Biden's domestic policy adviser, moderated Thursday’s panel, which also included Homeland Security Secretary Alexander Mayorkas, Shelly Lowe, chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Michael Smith, CEO of AmeriCorps.
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