Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced Friday that the Justice Department is investigating whether the dozens of incidents of intimidation and harassment reported in the days since the election qualify as federal hate crimes.
“The FBI is assessing, in conjunction with federal prosecutors, whether particular incidents constitute violations of federal law,” Lynch said in a videotaped statement.
The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented over 400 reports of post-election harassment, including many incidents at schools and houses of worship. Racist graffiti has been scrawled in elementary school bathrooms, commuters have been attacked for their perceived ethnicity, religion or immigration status, and churches have been defaced with swastikas. A student at the University of California at Santa Cruz reported that he was called homophobic slurs and struck in the head with a rock. A Muslim student at the University of Michigan was confronted by a man who allegedly threatened to set her on fire with a lighter unless she removed her hijab.
Civil rights groups say that minorities, including Muslim, blacks, and Latinos are being disproportionately targeted, and note that some attackers have invoked President-elect Donald Trump’s name during the altercations.
Lynch urged victims to report incidents to both local law enforcement and the Justice Department so that federal authorities can determine whether they violate federal hate crime statutes.
“We still have a long way to go to ensure that every American can live free from the fear of violence or harassment based what they look like, how they worship, or whom they love,” Lynch said in her statement.
Federal hate crime laws substantially increase penalties for crimes motivated by bias against the victim’s race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or other protected classes.
The FBI this week released its statistics on hate crimes committed in 2015, which found a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslim Americans.
Watch Lynch’s full statement below: