Hate crimes focal point of new DOJ task force

Attorney General Jeff Sessions provided an update on the Justice Department’s new crime reduction task force Wednesday, including new details on a subcommittee that will specifically focus on hate crime prevention.

In a letter to US Attorney’s offices across the country, Sessions explained that the Hate Crimes Subcommittee “will develop a plan to appropriately address hate crimes to better protect the rights of all Americans.”

“We must also protect the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate threats or acts of violence targeting any person or community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs or background,” Sessions added.

Last year the FBI released statistics showing an alarming spike in the number of reported hate crimes — in particular a 67% increase in crimes against Muslim Americans.

The new announcement is particularly noteworthy in light of Sessions’ previous opposition to the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009 when Sessions was a US senator.

“The hate crimes amendment is unwarranted, possibly unconstitutional — certainly, I believe it is unconstitutional in certain parts — and it violates the basic principle of equal justice under the law,” Sessions said back in 2009 on the Senate floor. “The hate crimes amendment to this bill has been said to cheapen the civil rights movement.”

Despite Sessions’ reservations about the law as a senator, he said during his confirmation hearing: “The law has been passed, Congress has spoken, you can be sure that I will enforce it.”

In addition to hate crimes, the DOJ task force will also undertake a review of the department’s existing marijuana enforcement policy — a subject that legalization advocates have been watching closely given Sessions’ fervent disapproval of the drug.

“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store,” Sessions said last month. “Educating people and telling them the terrible truth about drugs and addiction will result in better choices. We can reduce the use of drugs, save lives and turn back the surge in crime that inevitably follows in the wake of increased drug abuse.”