Attorney General Merrick B. Garland Delivers Remarks at Justice Department Event Commemorating One-Year Anniversary of COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act | OPA

Remarks as Delivered

Good morning. Thank you all for being here, and thanks to those who are joining us remotely. Although, I’m looking around for the screens and I don’t see them. [Laughter]

In one of my first acts as Attorney General, I directed an expedited review to determine how the Department could improve its efforts to combat hate crimes and hate incidents.

Shortly thereafter – and one year ago today – President Biden signed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act in to law.

We are grateful to be joined today by members of Congress and their staff who worked on this matter.

And as well, we are very grateful and honored to be joined today by members of the Jabara and Heyer families. Thank you very much for being here.

A week after the legislation became law, I issued a memorandum to all Justice Department employees laying out steps that we would take to improve our efforts to combat hate crimes and hate incidents.

We had originally planned on hosting today’s event to provide all of you – our colleagues, partners, and stakeholders – with an update on our anti-hate efforts over the last year.

We now gather in the wake of a horrific and painful reminder of the urgency and importance of this task.

Six days ago in Buffalo, 10 people were killed, another three were injured, and an entire community was terrorized. 

The Justice Department is investigating this as a hate crime and as an act of racially motivated violent extremism.

We are deploying every resource we have to ensure accountability for this terrible attack, to pursue justice for the victims and their families, and to provide support to them and to a grieving community.

Last weekend’s attack was a painful reminder of the singular impact that hate crimes have not only on individuals, but on entire communities.

They bring immediate devastation. They inflict lasting fear.

We will use every legal tool at our disposal to investigate and combat these kinds of hate crimes and their collateral impact that they have on the communities that they hurt.

The Department-wide directive I issued last year benefited from the thoughtful input of external stakeholders and internal experts, including many of you who are here today.

It outlined four areas of focus to improve our efforts to combat unlawful acts of hate:

  • Improving incident reporting;
  • Increasing law enforcement training and coordination at all levels;
  • Prioritizing community outreach; and
  • Making better use of our civil enforcement mechanisms.

As I said at the time, each of these steps share the common goal of deterring hate crimes and hate incidents, and addressing them when they occur, supporting those victimized by them, and reducing the pernicious effects they have on our society.

These are not easy tasks.

We know that the threats we face are evolving, and that our strategies to confront them must evolve as well. 

Addressing them requires making total use of both our criminal and non-criminal resources across the entire Justice Department.

Our relevant investigating and prosecuting components – including the Civil Rights Division, U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, the National Security Division, and the FBI – are hard at work maximizing their collective skills and tools to prevent, deter, and respond to hate crimes and bias-motivated forms of extremism. 

I want to thank Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, Director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys Monty Wilkinson, Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matt Olsen, and FBI Director Christopher Wray for their leadership and for their dedication to this work.

In February of this year alone:

  • The Justice Department convicted the three men who targeted and killed Ahmaud Arbery because he was a Black man jogging on a public street.
  • Our prosecutors convicted an individual who, motivated by racist and xenophobic beliefs about the COVID-19 pandemic, targeted and attacked an Asian family at a supermarket in Midland, Texas.
  • And a federal court sentenced a man in Tennessee for setting fire to four separate churches in that state.

These three results in one month represent just a small sample of the investigative and prosecutive efforts that the Justice Department is undertaking to confront hate crimes using our criminal enforcement mechanisms.

But we recognize that in order to address the destructive effects that hate crimes and hate incidents have on entire communities, we must make better use of our non-criminal tools as well. 

Today, I want to announce three important steps we are taking that reflect our holistic approach.

First, along with our partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, we are issuing new guidance aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic.

This guidance includes several steps that community-based organizations, law enforcement, government officials, and others can take to raise awareness of hate crimes and hate incidents – and how that increased awareness can be used as a tool for prevention and response.

This guidance focuses on both hate crimes and hate incidents, and was created with the input of many community-based stakeholders and public health professionals.

In just a moment, Deputy Secretary Palm will discuss this guidance further.

Second, I am pleased to announce that the Department has hired Ana Paula Noguez Mercado as our first ever fulltime Language Access Coordinator.

Ana, please stand up.  [Applause]

Thank you for joining the team.

We know that language access is a major barrier to the reporting of hate crimes and hate incidents.

Ana will join our Office for Access to Justice where she will work to improve knowledge, use, and expansion of the Department’s language access resources.

Third, I am pleased to announce that the Department is releasing $10 million in grant solicitations for new programs to address hate crimes.

$5 million of this grant funding was authorized under the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act.  These grants will support better hate crime reporting to the FBI and will fund states to establish and run reporting hotlines for victims of hate crimes

The other $5 million will go to supporting community-based approaches to preventing and addressing hate crimes. 

I want to thank Congress for providing the funding that allowed us to launch these grant programs.

And I want to thank Amy Solomon and her team at the Office of Justice Programs for administering these important grants and putting these funds to good use.  

Confronting unlawful acts of hate is a matter of moral urgency for all of us here today, and it is a charge deeply rooted in the Justice Department’s founding. 

As I have noted many times before, this Department was founded in 1870 in the aftermath of the Civil War with the first fundamental purpose to fight the white supremacist attack on Black civil rights after the Civil War.  

152 years later, the task to combat hate-fueled violence remains central to the Department’s mission.

We do this because it is our legal obligation. And we do this because it is our moral obligation. 

We do this work because we believe that 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, whom they love, or how they worship.

Thank you all for being here and for your tireless work and partnership.  

In a moment, you will hear from Deputy Secretary Palm from the Department of Health and Human Services. She will be followed by our Deputy and Associate Attorneys General who will speak more specifically to the steps we have taken in the past year.

Before that, however we will play a short video featuring reflections from the family members of four people who were killed by hate crimes, but whose legacies will have an enduring impact on combating hate crimes.

Thank you to the families of Heather Heyer, Khalid Jabara, and of Matthew Shepard, and James Byrd Jr. for your important words in this video. And thanks again to those of you who are here with us today.

At the end of the event, the Attorney General returned to the podium to give closing remarks.

So, as most of you know, this event was long planned. We did not need any more reminders of the urgency of our fight against hate and racially motivated violent extremism.

Unfortunately, we are gathered today in the shadow and the wake of another horrific attack. If it’s possible to even further re-double our efforts, something like this can only cause us to do so.

We commit to using every resource of the Department of Justice to prevent these kinds of acts of hate, to hold accountable those who commit them, and to support communities that are damaged and terrorized by them.

That is our job, and thanks to you we have great partners in this effort.

I want to say today is a beautiful day and all of you are here, and we would be grateful if you would think about mingling with each other in our courtyard when you step down on the first floor.   

It’s a nice day and a nice chance for all of the supporters of anti-hate get together, see each other and talk to each other.

Thank you so much, all of you, for coming.

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