Washington, DC: Thank you, Chairman Durbin, Ranking Member Grassley and members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. My name is Kristen Clarke, and I serve as the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the Justice Department’s hate crimes enforcement and prevention work, and on our efforts to implement the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which includes the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act.
The Justice Department is focused on using every tool at its disposal to reduce violent crime in our community. The Civil Rights Division plays a critical role in the department’s efforts, including by aggressively prosecuting violent hate crimes across the country.
Hate crimes are unique. Acts of hate not only harm the direct victims, but they also reverberate to instill fear across entire communities. And, unfortunately, hate crimes are on the rise. This is one of the reasons why Attorney General Merrick Garland’s very first directive called for an internal review to determine how the Justice Department can deploy all the tools at its disposal to counter this rise in hate.
During that review, Congress passed an important piece of anti-hate legislation, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which included the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act. I want to recognize Chair Durbin, Senator Blumenthal and Senator Hirono for your efforts to make this critical statute a reality.
FBI statistics confirm that, in 2020, reported hate crimes rose to their highest levels in nearly two decades. The majority of these crimes – over 60% – were motivated by race and ethnicity. And of those crimes, more than half of them targeted Black people. We also saw a shocking rise of over 70% in hate crimes targeting people of Asian descent – the highest in over a decade. We saw a sharp rise of over 30% in hate crimes motivated by the gender identity of the victim. And we have seen acts of hate targeting houses of worship and religious communities, including the recent and terrifying hostage-taking targeting the Jewish community at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas.
Last May, the Attorney General issued a memorandum that strengthens the Justice Department’s efforts to address unlawful acts of hate. From incident reporting, to stronger law enforcement training and coordination, to community outreach, and designation of a department-wide hate crimes coordinator, the department has been fully activated in the fight against hate.
Under that memorandum and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, the Civil Rights Division is expediting its review of federal hate crimes. Since January of 2021, we have charged more than 30 defendants with federal hate crimes. We have also secured convictions and sentences in more than 20 hate crimes cases. This work makes clear that even though hate crimes continue to pose a real and present threat to communities across the country, the Justice Department will hold perpetrators of these heinous acts accountable.
We know that racially motivated violence is a persistent problem. Just a few weeks ago, we secured hate crimes and attempted kidnapping convictions against the three men who tragically murdered Ahmaud Arbery. Mr. Arbery was targeted because of his race by three white men while out jogging in a Georgia neighborhood. Georgia did not have a hate crimes statute when Mr. Arbery was killed. The department stepped in to fill the gap. The evidence at trial revealed the defendants harbored racist beliefs that led them to make assumptions and decisions about Mr. Arbery because he was Black. For example, the evidence showed that one defendant had referred to his daughter’s Black boyfriend as a “monkey” and used the “n-word;” a second made deeply racist comments to people he barely knew and believed that “those Blacks are nothing but trouble;” and the third associated Black people with criminality and wanted to see them killed or harmed.
In February, a Texas man pleaded guilty to hate crimes charges for attacking an Asian family at a store in Midland, Texas. The defendant saw the family, followed them, and violently attacked the father and his two young children with a knife. The defendant admitted he targeted the family because he believed they were Chinese and deemed them responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.
We have also investigated and prosecuted cases involving hate based on gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Last July, for example, the department charged an Ohio man who self-identified as an “incel,” or “involuntary celibate,” with allegedly attempting to conduct a mass shooting of women at a university and illegally possessing a machine gun. He allegedly wrote a manifesto stating he would “slaughter” women, and a note saying he hoped to “aim big” for a kill count of 3,000 people. And in June and November of last year, we prosecuted cases in Texas and Oregon involving defendants who used the social media app Grindr to target, lure and assault gay men because of their sexual orientation.
We have also prosecuted numerous defendants for hate crimes based on religion. Last December, a man was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years after he opened fire at a synagogue in Poway, California, killing one person, injuring three and endangering more than 50 others. This same man had attempted to set fire to the nearby Dar-ul-Arqam mosque the month before. And he had written a manifesto in which he made many anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements, including expressing a desire to kill Jewish people.
The Civil Rights Division is also fighting back against unlawful acts of hate that violate the federal civil rights statutes that we secured. For example, we secured a settlement with a school district in Utah that had failed for years to address serious and widespread racial harassment of Black and Asian American students. Our investigation uncovered numerous reports of harassment, including hundreds of documented uses of the “n-word” and physical assaults. All students deserve safe learning environments.
Unfortunately, non-reporting and underreporting of hate crimes is a longstanding problem and we know that accurate data is critical to identifying and preventing hate crimes. Consistent with the mandates in the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, the department is taking steps to support and improve reporting, including by developing guidance and, when funding is appropriated, launching new grant programs.
Acts of unlawful hate come in many forms — from online harassment and verbal threats to physical assaults, cross-burnings, attacks on houses of worship, vandalizing places of business and mass murder. But these acts have one thing in common: they terrorize not only individuals and families, but entire communities because of their race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender or gender identity.
Congress’ attention to this issue made critical statutes like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act a reality. The Department of Justice remains deeply committed to standing up to bias-motivated violence, and to promoting the principles that strengthen our democracy and protect our communities.