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After a deadly mass shooting, the DOJ is launching an anti-hate initiative in Buffalo

Justice Department's Civil Rights Division announced a new initiative to combat unlawful acts of hate in the Western District of New York. Here, a memorial for the supermarket shooting victims is set up outside the Tops Friendly Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Joshua Bessex
/
AP
Justice Department's Civil Rights Division announced a new initiative to combat unlawful acts of hate in the Western District of New York. Here, a memorial for the supermarket shooting victims is set up outside the Tops Friendly Market on Thursday, July 14, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

Five months following the deadly mass shooting that killed 10 Black people and injured three others at a Buffalo, N.Y. supermarket, the Justice Department has recently announced the launch of a new initiative, aimed at combatting unlawful acts of hate across Buffalo.

In coordination with the U.S. Attorney General's Office, the newly created United Against Hate initiative will connect federal, state and local law enforcement with marginalized communities in order to "build trust" and encourage people to report hate crimes and incidents.

"The Justice Department is committed to marshaling all resources at its disposal to hold people who engage in unlawful acts of hate accountable," Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke, who oversees the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, said in a news release.

The new initiative, which kicked off in Western New York, is a broader effort by the Justice Department that it plans to launch across all 94 United States attorneys' offices over the next year.

"This type of race-based hate is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in this community or in our society," said Trini E. Ross, U.S. attorney for the Western District of New York, in a statement.

Not everybody is certain that the initiative will work

Investigators stand outside during a moment of silence for the victims of the Buffalo supermarket shooting outside the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.
Joshua Bessex / AP
/
AP
Investigators stand outside during a moment of silence for the victims of the Buffalo supermarket shooting outside the Tops Friendly Market on Saturday, May 21, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y.

As part of the initiative's programming, the U.S. Attorney's Office will begin to engage with communities across Western New York — in hopes that deepening connections in the community will encourage them to report acts of hate.

With the nationwide initiative in its infancy stages, some experts and those in the Buffalo community are still skeptical about the Justice Department's vision for the initiative.

"I think any type of program or legislation towards addressing hate crimes and in different things is a start," James Ponzo II, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, told NPR.

"But far too often, which we already know, things seem to start but stall and die out," he added. "Time will tell whether or not it's really effective or whether it's a publicity stunt."

For others, such as Buffalo resident Jalonda Hill, clarity is needed from officials about how the government is classifying certain acts of hate as "hate crimes."

"For me, it's kind of weird for a legal system to define what a hate crime is to me. Because for me, I see a hate crime is just being denied a loan to get a house — I feel like that's rooted in hate," Hill told NPR.

"I see hate crimes as many different things," she added.

Some states are taking steps against the rise in hate crimes

The initiative in Buffalo comes at a time when new programs for reporting bias incidents are being put into place at the state and federal levels.

In May, the Justice Department announced a series of new guidelines and $10 million in new federal grants to help states develop hotlines for reporting incidents.

Additionally, the Justice Department issued new guidance along with the Department of Health and Human Services aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the U.S. experienced a surge of hate crimes and incidents against Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities.

In August, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced new guidance to support the development of domestic terrorism prevention plans, pledging $10 million to assist counties across the state in the development of threat assessment management teams.

And this summer, Maryland officials launched an alert system — The Emmett Till Alerts system — to flag racist incidents and acts of hate. Named in honor of the 14-year-old who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1955 after being accused of whistling at a white woman, the alert system will act as a warning system if credible threats are made.

Once a hate crime or racist incident is reported, a team of people will determine whether an official alert should be sent. Those notices will be sent to 167 Black elected statewide officials in Maryland, along with national civil rights organizations, clergy members and other leaders.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a reporter on the Newsdesk covering both race & identity and breaking news.