Garland orders DOJ review of hate crime efforts amid Asian American attacks

Attorney General nominee Merrick Garland
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Attorney General Merrick Garland on Tuesday ordered a 30-day review to assess the government’s response to tracking hate crimes amid an uptick in violent acts targeting Asian Americans.

“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 wrote in a memo to Justice Department employees.

“We must recommit ourselves to this urgent task.”

The memo gets at a persistent problem for law enforcement: many local law enforcement agencies across the country report zero hate crimes in their precinct, leaving many advocates to argue officers are failing to report instances where bias played a motivating role in a crime.

It orders an examination of the federal government’s capacity to track such incidents, including how the Justice Department can increase compliance with reporting requirements.

Garland’s memo doesn’t mention the shooting in Atlanta where six women of Asian descent were killed as a shooter stormed three different area spas. The shooter denied that race played a role in his crime.

But it does note “hate-fueled mass murders that we have seen too many times in the past several years.”

It also instructs the department to weigh using civil rather than criminal penalties to go after incidents of bias that may not meet the technical definition of a hate crime. Hate crime laws require prosecutors to prove a violent incident was spurred by someone’s perceived race, religion or a number of other protected classes.

In a call last week with reporters, a Justice Department official said federal law often excludes actions that can still cause disruption and fear in a community, like screaming a slur.

The memo also calls for a review of whether additional funding is needed for law enforcement efforts targeting hate crimes. 

Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents reported to their center, found 3,795 hate incidents targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19 of 2020 through the end of February.

Tags AAPI Asian Americans Department of Justice DOJ Hate crimes Merrick Garland

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