WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Department of Justice announced new efforts to try to deter a spike in hate crimes during the pandemic, an ongoing concern underscored by the recent shooting in Buffalo, New York, that authorities say was racially motivated.
“Unfortunately we are gathered today in the shadow and the wake of another horrific attack,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Friday, saying his department was taking new steps to “prevent these kinds of acts of hate, to hold accountable those who commit them.”
Garland said the DOJ is increasing staffing and providing additional funding to better report possible hate crimes to the FBI. The plans were already in the works before the Buffalo shooting, but Garland said it provided a “painful reminder of the urgency and importance of this task.”
Garland said DOJ efforts would also include raising public awareness about hate crimes and funding to help state-run hotlines.
The investments are part of the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed by Congress last year in response to a surge in violence against people of Asian or Pacific Islander descent. Democrats on Capitol Hill now want to go further.
“We need to stop talking about these as hate crimes and start talking about them as acts of domestic terrorism,” Rep. Sean Casten, D-Ill., said.
House Democrats passed a plan to give the DOJ even more resources to monitor, analyze and investigate domestic terrorist groups they say are fueled by hate.
“It is insidious, it’s ugly, it’s wrong,” Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif, said. “It’s not enough to continue responding to these attacks at this rate. We must prevent them from occurring in the first place.”
The majority of Republicans and some Democrats oppose the bill.
“I think it’s a terrible, terrible idea,” Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said. “It is giving the federal government and federal law enforcement the power to track and censor speech and monitor Americans. It’s like the Patriot Act but for American citizens.”