Responding to a recent wave of violence and threats against minority communities, more than two dozen senators on Thursday urged the Trump administration to take a stand and reaffirm the federal government's role in prosecuting hate crimes.
Addressed to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the letter highlights the "alarming increase in bias-motivated violence" and notes that "many members of racial, ethnic and religious minority communities, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, live in very real fear for their safety."
The senators reportedly pointed to the recent killing of Indian aviation engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who was shot in Olathe, Kansas by a white navy veteran who reportedly yelled "get out of my country," which many said was a reflection of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of President Donald Trump. The FBI is currently investigating the shooting as a hate crime.
In recent weeks, there have also been more than 160 bomb threats made to over 60 Jewish community centers, as Common Dreams has reported, as well as the desecration of two Jewish cemeteries. In addition, there have been reports of fires at four mosques in the U.S. since the beginning of the year on top of the deadly shooting last month at a Quebec City mosque.
Trump has been repeatedly criticized for his absent or lackluster condemnation of these attacks. Meanwhile, there has been no movement on the part of Sessions or the Department of Justice (DOJ), which he oversees.
Specifically, the 25 Democratic senators are asking the Trump administration to prioritize funding for the DOJ's Community Relations Service and Civil Rights Division, and "reaffirm the Department's commitment to work with state and local officials in prosecuting hate crimes," Buzzfeed reported the letter as saying.
"They are scared," the lawmakers wrote of minority communities, "and it is incumbent upon you as our nation's chief law enforcement officer to demonstrate to them and all Americans that discrimination and violence against any individual because of who they are, how they worship, or who they love will not be tolerated in our country."
Similarly, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council issued a statement on Wednesday asking Trump to instruct AG Sessions to "prioritize investigation and prosecution of hate crimes" and ensure that funding for the Civil Rights Division is strengthened in the administration's 2017 budget submission to Congress."
Historically, Sessions, who formally served as a U.S. senator, was a vocal opponent of federal hate crime statutes and argued in 2009 against extending protections to include LGBTQ people.
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) earlier this week sent a separate letter to the AG specifically asking him to investigate the recent desecration of the historic Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in suburban St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote: "While local law enforcement is working hard to identify the perpetrators, it is evident that a federal hate crime investigation is warranted due to the dark history of anti-Semitic attacks of this nature, both here and abroad, and the symbolic message it sends to the Jewish community all over the world."