HONOLULU – Sens. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Aug. 16, urging him to create an interagency task force to address the increase in hate crimes that has stricken the country.
The recent outburst of violent racism and domestic terrorist activity by white supremacist organizations and individuals in Charlottesville, Va., has made the senators’ call for action even more urgent.
“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, Hirono joined a similar group of her colleagues to send a letter to President 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.
The letter notes that hate crime incidents have increased from 5,479 in 2014 to 5,850 in 2015, a rise of seven percent, 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 Sessions 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.
Sens. 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.