By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – Taking on hate crimes is one of the top priorities of the newly-appointed Attorney General, especially now with increasing numbers of attacks against the AAPI community.
In his first press conference as the new Attorney General in California, Rob Bonta announced the launch of a Racial Justice Bureau within the California Department of Justice and announced plans for a virtual convening against hate crimes with California’s Big City Mayors.
“I know we cannot back down in the face of hate,” Bonta said during a news conference Tuesday. “Throughout California’s history, too many of us have felt the sting of hate and discrimination.
“The fact is: No part of California is immune to hate. Too many Asian, Latino, Black, Native American, people with disabilities, LGBTQ, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh Californians all across the state are hurting,” he continued. “Make no mistake, right now we are in a full-on state of crisis, a full state of emergency when it comes to violence against the Asian American Pacific Islander community.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to take on bias and hate and their toxic effects on our society. As part of that, I’m launching a Racial Justice Bureau within the California Department of Justice and working to help bring together many of our major local elected leaders in common cause against hate. We must recommit ourselves to doing everything we can to better serve the needs of all Californians. All of our communities deserve to be seen, to be valued, and to be protected.”
In calling for the Bureau as well as the convening, Bonta said, “We must recommit ourselves to do everything we can to serve the needs of all Californians.”
The Bureau will initially bring six new attorneys and a supervising deputy attorney general to DOJ’s Civil Rights Enforcement Section to help tackle some of California’s most pressing racial and social justice issues head on.
“We are demonstrating our commitment to address racial justice through the commitment of these resources,” Bonta explained. The attorneys will assist in their work on a broad range of civil rights and constitutional matters including work to address hate crimes.
“Addressing this challenge will require the development of affirmative strategies that employ best practices and can be implemented across jurisdictions in order to quickly and decisively prevent and respond to hate,” he said.
“These new attorneys are one of the first steps we will take to address these matters,” he said.
These attorneys will, among other things, address hate crimes and organizations, “taking on the insidious effects of white supremacy and hate organizations on our society and stepping up outreach with community organizations and law enforcement on hate crime prevention, information sharing, and reporting.”
Second, they address implicit and explicit bias in policing, “launching and supporting investigations as appropriate and recognizing the urgent need to strengthen trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
Third, they will address law enforcement best practices, “issuing guidance to local law enforcement, prosecutors, and other public entities regarding shared challenges in providing for public safety.”
Fourth to address: “Campus climate issues, including conducting and supporting investigations into overly punitive, discriminatory policies where they arise and working to find innovative ways to strengthen diverse, equitable, and inclusive school environments.”
Finally, he will create a Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans, “assisting with the implementation of the new task force as authorized under Assembly Bill 3121.”
Bonta announced that complementing these internal efforts to combat hate through the creation of the Bureau, the Attorney General will host “a virtual convening with Big City Mayors at the end of the month to help increase information sharing and work to identify new, innovative solutions for tackling shared challenges, as well as highlight existing regional resources and actionable steps that can be taken by all Californians to fight back against hate.
“Drawing on the expertise of local elected leaders, the virtual convening will seek to raise awareness around regional concerns involving hate crimes, support those who have been impacted by hate, and secure commitments for direct action across California,” Bonta said.
Big City Mayors represents the state’s 13 largest cities and more than a quarter of California’s residents. Members of the coalition include Los Angeles, San Diego, San José, San Francisco, Fresno, Sacramento, Long Beach, Oakland, Bakersfield, Anaheim, Riverside, Santa Ana, and Stockton.
“The Mayors of California’s 13 largest cities look forward to working with Attorney General Bonta to combat hate crimes and discrimination in every form,” said San José Mayor Sam Liccardo, Chair of the Big City Mayors. “It will take all of us standing up for our wonderfully diverse community members to make California a welcome home for all.”
Hate crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute, with a high standard of proof required to demonstrate a crime was motivated by hate.
“Local law enforcement can do more to identify and investigate hate crimes,” Bonta said, noting the results of a statewide audit. “The acts that actually are hate crimes are not necessarily identified as such and investigated as such.”
He noted, “We’re missing quite a few acts of hate that could be and perhaps should be prosecuted as hate crimes.”
He vowed to support law enforcement across the state in investigating hate crimes.
Bonta also urged a broader discussion of root causes.
“The hate violence that we’re seeing now is a symptom, it’s not the root cause,” he said. “I believe that one major reason why we are where we are in this moment, is because the former occupant of the White House used the biggest megaphone on the planet to repeatedly push out messages of hate and xenophobia of cruelty and racism.”
He said, “(He) gave people permission and license to act on perhaps some of their worst instincts instead of their best. At a time when folks are hurting perhaps because of an international pandemic or an economic recession, there is, in a human condition, an inclination to blame others.”
He said, “We need leaders who will do the opposite… instead of driving wedges between each other.”
—David M. Greenwald
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