The COVID Hate Crimes Act is one year old. Garland says the work continues
WASHINGTON — Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday that pursuing criminal hate crime charges, raising awareness and strengthening reporting are among steps the Justice Department has taken in the year since the Congress has approved legislation to address attacks on Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But after another mass shooting last weekend of 10 black people at a Buffalo grocery store, Garland said the work is continuing.
“We will use every legal tool at our disposal to investigate and combat these types of hate crimes and the collateral impact they have on the communities they hurt,” Garland said.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act ordered the Justice Department to expedite hate crime investigations, after a man killed eight people at three Atlanta-area spas in March 2021. The shooting came amid a historic rise in violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.
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The legislation also directed the department to provide direction to state and local law enforcement agencies to conduct online hate crime reporting and collect incident data. The Department of Health and Human Services has been tasked with issuing guidelines to raise awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic.
Congress also approved an anti-lynching bill in March.
But the shooting deaths in Buffalo served as a stark reminder that horrific incidents continue.
“We are committed to using all the resources of the Department of Justice to prevent these types of acts of hate, to hold accountable those who commit them, and to support the communities that are damaged and terrorized by them,” Garland said.
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Lawmakers pushed ahead with the legislation, which was approved 364-62 in the House and 94-1 in the Senate, as violence against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities has increased during the coronavirus pandemic. Politicians including former President Donald Trump have blamed China for the pandemic.
A house sponsor, Rep. Grace Meng, DN.Y., said she was pleased with the department’s updates in the implementation law “as we look to recover from the trauma and hardship of the past two years.”
“These new provisions will improve our national and local infrastructure for reporting hate crimes, provide guidance to local and state law enforcement agencies on raising awareness of the increase in hate crimes and incidents, and ensure that the language is not a barrier to reporting hate crimes,” she said. .
Garland released a memo a year ago calling for better reporting of hate crime incidents, better law enforcement training, greater community awareness and expanded civilian enforcement. The department’s criminal, civil, and national security divisions coordinate with the FBI and U.S. attorneys to prevent and deter hate crimes.
“These are not easy tasks,” Garland said. “We know the threats we face are evolving.”
As examples of criminal prosecutions, Garland cited three cases from February. Three men have been convicted in Georgia of hate crimes for killing Ahmaud Arbery while jogging. A man has pleaded guilty in Texas to attacking a family in a Sam’s Club warehouse with a knife because he believed they were Chinese and responsible for the pandemic. And a Tennessee man was sentenced to seven years in prison for burning down four churches.
“We do this work because we believe that everyone in this country should be able to live without fear of being attacked or harassed because of where they are, how they look, who they love, or how they revere,” Garland said.
He announced $10 million in grants. Half will be used to support better reporting of hate crimes and for helplines. Half will be used to strengthen community hate crime prevention programs.
Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta said the department has translated its online portal for reporting hate crimes into 24 languages.
Andrea Palm, assistant secretary of health and human services, said her department has developed 11 methods to raise awareness about hate crimes, including engaging health care providers and prioritizing community outreach.
“Today we have a chance to chart a new course, to fight hate in all its forms,” Palm said.