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Senators Renew Call for Response to Hate Crimes Following Charlottesville

August 17, 2017, 8:13 AM HST (Updated August 17, 2017, 8:14 AM)
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U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=217675

Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawai‘i) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, urging him to create an interagency task force to address the tragic increase in hate crimes that has stricken the U.S.

The recent outburst of violent racism and domestic terrorist activity by white supremacist organizations and individuals in Charlottesville, Virginia, has made the senators’ call for action even more urgent, said a press release from Sen. Hirono’s office.

“President Trump’s reluctance to quickly and directly condemn the hate, bigotry, and racism of the white supremacists and members of the Ku Klux Klan that gathered in Charlottesville was deeply alarming to us and to millions of Americans,” wrote the Senators. “In light of the horrific attack and hatred demonstrated this weekend in Charlottesville, we urge you to act quickly to address the alarming rise of hate in our country.”

In April, Sen. Hirono joined a similar group of her colleagues to send a letter to President Donald Trump asking for the task force; to this day, the letter has yet to be directly answered by the administration. Although the Department of Justice has created a subcommittee focused on hate crimes, the subcommittee lacks sufficient power to effectively address the rise of hate crimes as its scope has never been defined.

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The letter notes that hate crime incidents have increased from 5,479 in 2014 to 5,850 in 2015, a rise of 7%, and expresses concerns about the administration’s recent actions to decrease funding for efforts to stop white extremism and eliminate funding for efforts dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis. The Southern Poverty Law Center found that the number of hate groups operating in the U.S. rose to 917 in 2016, an increase of 25 from 2015. In particular, anti-Muslim hate groups almost tripled in 2016.

In addition to the formation of the task force, the Senators’ letter urged the Attorney General to devote more resources from his department to supporting states and local communities in addressing the root causes of hate through education, community development, and cross-cultural exchanges.

Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.) also joined the letter.

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A full copy of the letter is as follows:

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

We are writing to urge you to create a U.S. Department of Justice interagency task force to combat hate-based incidents and violence. As you know, there has been an alarming rise in hate violence and threats against religious and racial minorities and immigrants across the United States. Most recently, Americans witnessed the horrific hate-based rally and domestic terror attack in Charlottesville, Virginia where white supremacist hatred led to one fatality and injured many others. President Trump’s reluctance to quickly and directly condemn the hate, bigotry, and racism of the white supremacists and members of the Ku Klux Klan that gathered at Charlottesville was deeply alarming to us and to millions of Americans.

In April, a letter was sent to President Donald Trump calling for the creation of a Presidential Task Force on preventing and combating hate violence. Disturbingly, President Trump has yet to respond to this letter as of this date. We understand that on April 5, 2017, you announced the creation of a subcommittee, part of the Department of Justice’s Task Force on Crime Reduction and Public Safety that will “develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes.” While this is a positive development, we are writing to strongly urge you to create a full task force to combat hate based incidents and violence. To underscore the urgency of this issue, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released its most current data in November 2016 and found that hate crime incidents had increased from 5,479 in 2014 to 5,850 in 2015, an increase of seven percent.

In addition to a U.S. Department of Justice interagency task force to combat hate based incidents and violence, we also urge you to devote departmental resources to support states and local communities in addressing the root causes of hate through education, community development, and cross-cultural exchanges. In recent weeks, the Administration has in fact taken steps to decrease funding for efforts to stop white extremism, as evidenced by the Department of Homeland Security pulling funding for Life After Hate, a group dedicated to de-radicalizing neo-Nazis and stopping white extremism. With activity involving white extremist and hate groups on the rise in our country, now is not the time to shift our resources away from funding efforts to combat these hateful organizations that threaten to undermine our democracy.

In light of the horrific attack and hatred demonstrated this weekend in Charlottesville, we urge you to act quickly to address the alarming rise of hate in our country. We look forward to your timely response.

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