The battle against hate crimes is a persistent challenge for the Biden administration

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Attorney General Merrick Garland had long planned a Justice Department event on May 20 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s signature on hate crimes legislation.

But as if to poke fun at the seemingly futile efforts against racist violence, days before the show, a gunman identified as Payton Gendron drove three hours to a Buffalo supermarket and shot 13 people with a Bushmaster XM rifle. -15 after plotting to kill black people.

The massacre sent a message of defiance to a ceremony meant to highlight the Biden administration’s fight against racist violence.

“We come together now following a horrific and painful reminder of the urgency and importance of this task,” Garland told a crowd in the department’s Great Hall last week.

“No one in America should fear violence because of who they are,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa O. Monaco added. “The department will not tolerate any form of terrorism, hate-motivated violence, or unlawful discrimination.”

The moment highlighted the difficulty of preventing hate crimes in a nation still plagued by tensions exacerbated, according to many anti-hate crime groups, by the racist rhetoric of former President Donald Trump. Garland used the event to present a new set of plans to combat the lingering scourge.

After citing successful prosecutions in hate crime cases, Garland announced “non-criminal tools” to help prevent them. One is advice for community organizations and local governments on how raising awareness of hate incidents “can be used as a prevention and response tool”. He also announced a $10 million grant program to combat hate crimes through state-run hotlines and community programs.

“If it’s possible to double our efforts even further,” Garland said, referring to Buffalo, “something like this can only spur us on to do so.”

But efforts are redoubled each time the disease of gun violence in the country explodes with mass deaths, sometimes with hatred as a motive.

And not far Pennsylvania Avenue since Garland’s speech, Senate Republicans then blocked legislation according to Democrats, this could have given law enforcement more tools to combat racist violence. The bill would have created offices within the FBI, Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to report on the “threat posed by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.” Under the bill, an interagency task force would also focus on white racist infiltration in law enforcement and the military.

Republicans opposed the measure, arguing it could be interpreted too broadly.

Gendron, the 18-year-old Buffalo suspect, left no doubt as to his motive.

His 180-page screed, The Washington Post reported, laid out his belief in a “great replacement” theory that white people would be partly defeated, in his own words, by the “genocide of the European people.” It’s reminiscent of the “Jews won’t replace us” chants by racists at a deadly rally in Charlottesville in 2017 that clashed with counter-protesters. Following this, Trump comforted white supremacists by saying there were “very good people on both sides.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), reported hate crimes are increasing even as law enforcement reports decline. This could indicate significant under-reporting.

The ADL’s review of FBI data indicates that the number of hate crimes rose in 2020 to 7,759, the highest point in 12 years and a 6% increase from the previous year. Reported hate crimes against black people jumped 43% to 2,755. Yet, at the same time, more than 60 jurisdictions with more than 100,000 residents reported no hate crimes, a circumstance the ADL regards as “just not believable”.

Jake Hyman, deputy director of communications for the ADL, complained via email about the “continuing lack of comprehensive and reliable data on hate crimes in this country. Data dictates policy, and without an accurate assessment of the extent and nature of this problem, policymakers and communities must develop solutions with one hand tied behind their back.

The FBI did not respond to questions about its hate crime data.

Garland’s hate crime toolkit does not include restricting inflammatory speech by elected officials.

After noting that “only the perpetrator of a hate crime is responsible for the crime,” Michael Lieberman, senior policy adviser at the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), pointed to Trump’s influence.

“But we strongly believe that words matter – and words have consequences,” Lieberman added via email. “We believe that the divisive and polarizing rhetoric and executive actions of President Trump have helped create a climate in which individual perpetrators could feel encouraged to act.”

Hyman agreed, saying Trump’s words created a climate that normalized anti-Asian, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred, which in turn energized and encouraged people to take action. But hatred existed before Donald Trump and it continues to thrive even though he is no longer in power.

In response, Trump spokesman Taylor Budowich lambasted the SPLC and the media. “The disgraced and discredited Southern Law Center is a hate-based scam organization posing as a think tank to sow division and fight partisan battles,” he said. “The Washington Post’s amplification of SLC’s agenda tells readers everything they need to know about both.”

Budowich said nothing about similar comments from the Anti-Defamation League.


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