US Attorney General orders Justice Department to examine 'disturbing trend' in hate crimes

Merrick Garland directs agency staff to investigate and prosecute crimes against Asian Americans

People attend an Asian American anti-violence press conference outside the building were a 65-year-old Asian woman was attacked in New York on March 30, 2021. New York police were searching Tuesday for a man who violently attacked an Asian-American woman as bystanders seemingly looked on without intervening, the latest incident of anti-Asian violence in the United States. The attack, which took place on a sidewalk in broad daylight in Midtown Manhattan on March 29, was caught on CCTV footage from inside an adjacent building. / AFP / Kena Betancur

US Attorney General Merrick Garland directed Justice Department employees to give priority to investigating and prosecuting hate crimes and incidents, especially a recent outbreak of violence against Asian Americans.

In a memo Tuesday to all department employees, Mr Garland ordered a review to be completed in a month to determine specific steps that could be taken to better combat hate crimes.

It would include giving priority to criminal investigations and prosecution, and tracking and reporting incidents that might break federal laws.

Mr Garland was particularly concerned about  “the disturbing trend in reports of violence against members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander community” since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Former president Donald Trump often blamed Beijing for what he called the “China virus” and “Kung Flu".

Mass shootings on March 16 in the Atlanta metropolitan area killed eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

This is the first major public action Mr Garland has taken since he became the nation’s top law enforcement officer almost three weeks ago.

“We must recommit ourselves to this urgent task and ensure that the department makes the best and most effective use of its resources to combat hate,” he said.

The review will determine if the department can better use its civil enforcement authorities “to address unlawful acts of bias that do not rise to the level of hate crimes”, Mr Garland said.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced new steps in response to anti-Asian violence, including a $50 million grant programme for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

The FBI will also begin holding “nationwide civil rights training events to promote state and local law enforcement reporting of hate crimes", Mr Biden said.