Concerned that the U.S. Attorney’s Office for D.C. has failed to adequately pursue cases of hate crimes, the District’s attorney general is asking the D.C. Council to empower it to enforce the city’s anti-bias laws.
The council’s Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety held a hearing Tuesday on a bill that would allow D.C.’s attorney general to bring lawsuits or seek injunctions for bias-related crimes.
“It is the U.S. Attorney’s Office that decides whether to enforce our statute that enhances penalties for bias-motivated violence. And, time and again, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has failed to pursue the bias enhancement,” said D.C. Deputy Attorney General Toni Jackson.
Jackson testified in favor of the bill being considered at the request of the D.C. attorney general.
“It expressly authorizes OAG to bring civil hate crimes charges,” Jackson said.
Other witnesses testified on the bill, some of them saying they believe the bill does not go far enough in cracking down on hate crimes in the city.
“We have to look at housing discrimination and gentrification as a form of ethnic cleansing … those are crimes against humanity … those are hate crimes,” said Jade Arrindell, an anti-racism trainer and community organizer.
Representatives from D.C.’s Office of the Attorney General said enforcement of the city’s anti-bias laws would only be pursued when the violation happened in conjunction with a violent crime.
But Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Allen pointed to the language in the bill, the summary of which reads: ” … that the Attorney General may bring civil actions for bias-related crimes, or when any person attempts to interfere with the exercise of federally or District-protected rights through threats, intimidation, or coercion.”
Allen said the language was “too vague” and called for more clarity.