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Attorney General Merrick Garland urges hate crime enforcement strategy, calls for 30-day review

WASHINGTON – Citing an “urgent” need to reset hate crime enforcement strategy, Attorney General Merrick Garland launched a 30-day review Tuesday to assess the government’s tracking capabilities and prosecution of hate offenses that are surging across the country.

“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 said in a memo to all Justice Department staffers.

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Garland did not specifically refer to the recent mass shooting in Georgia, where six of eight victims were of Asian descent, but the attorney vowed to “seek justice for the victims of the hate-fueled mass murders that we have seen too many times in the past several years.”

The slayings, Garland said, have “shaken our communities, torn at our social fabric and undercut our most basic values.”

Garland said the Justice review would examine the federal government’s capacity to track and identify hate incidents; weigh the use of civil enforcement authority to respond to incidents of bias that do not rise to actual hate crimes; and assess whether additional money is needed to support law enforcement’s response.

Judge Merrick Garland, nominee to be attorney general, is sworn in at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Monday, Feb. 22, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Carlos Barria/Pool via AP)

“We must re-commit ourselves to this urgent task and ensure that the department makes the best and most effective use of its resources to combat hate,” the attorney general wrote.

AAPI Hate, which includes a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, recorded 3,795 incidents of anti-Asian discrimination across the U.S. from its inception on March 19, 2020, through Feb. 28, according to data released just before this month’s mass shooting in the Atlanta area.

Related:Will Atlanta shootings spur action on anti-Asian hate crime laws?

A motive in the slayings has not been determined, though authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.

Since the attack, lawmakers have urged the Justice Department to focus renewed attention on hate-related incidents targeting Asians.

This month, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., the chairwoman of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, described the Atlanta murders as “beyond terrifying, but it just brings home to so many Asian Americans that they are fearful of their lives and circumstances.”

Earlier Tuesday, the New York Police Department appealed for public help in identifying a suspect in a vicious attack on a 65-year-old Asian American as she walked down a midtown Manhattan street.

The woman was hospitalized with serious injuries after the attacker punched, kicked and stomped on her in front of an apartment building on 43rd Street, police said.

Surveillance video shows the woman passing the building’s open front doors when the attacker appears in the frame and immediately attacks, stomping on her after she falls to the ground. 

The incident occurred just before noon on Monday. NYPD released photos of the suspect Tuesday, seeking tips from the public about the attack.

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