Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch focused attention on an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims as she visited a mosque in Northern Virginia on Monday, drawing parallels between discrimination prior generations have overcome and warning that attacks on one group endanger all members of society.
“There is a pernicious thread that connects the act of violence against a woman wearing a hijab to the assault on a transgender man to the tragic deaths of nine innocent African Americans during a Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina,” Ms. Lynch said during her address at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society Center in Sterling. “There is a thread that links all of those, and when one of us is threatened, all of us are threatened.”
The number of hate crimes reported in the United States increased by about 6 percent in 2015 — led by a surge in attacks targeting Muslims, according to data released last month by the FBI.
A total of 5,818 hate crimes were reported in 2015, a “sobering indication of how much work remains to be done,” Ms. Lynch said.
The number of assaults, attacks on mosques and other crimes that targeted Muslims grew by 67 percent to 257 crimes — the highest total since 2001, when more than 480 crimes targeted Muslims in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The outgoing attorney general did not reference President-elect Donald Trump or mention policies he has touted, including the creation of a Muslim registry, but she sought to reassure those who are concerned about an uptick in religious discrimination.
“I know that many Americans are feeling uncertainty and anxiety as we witness the recent eruption of divisive rhetoric and hateful deeds. I know that many Americans are wondering if they are in danger simply because of what they look like or where they pray,” Ms. Lynch said. “I know that some are wondering whether the progress we have made at such great cost, and over so many years, is in danger of sliding backwards.”
While she acknowledged the Department of Justice will encounter challenges in the years to come, she said career prosecutors will continue to enforce federal hate crime laws.
In addition to prosecuting those responsible for hate crimes, Ms. Lynch highlighted the work Justice Department lawyers have done in combating land-use discrimination against those seeking to build mosques or other houses of worship.
“Members of the Civil Rights Division have heard repeatedly about more overt discrimination in both the tone and framing of objections to planned religious institutions, especially mosques and Islamic centers,” Ms. Lynch said.
As a result of the increase in reports of discrimination, the Justice Department has opened 50 investigations and filed 10 lawsuits since 2010 that involve the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. Ms. Lynch said 38 percent of the department’s land-use cases involved mosques or Islamic schools.
Citing the women’s suffrage movement, desegregation efforts in the Deep South and clashes over the civil rights among the gay community at New York’s Stonewall Inn — a site she will visit Tuesday — the attorney general said generations of Americans have demanded that they receive equal treatment.
The equality now recognized and protected by law was not “a product of fate, or destiny,” she said. Rather, it was borne out of the choices made by individuals who stood up against discrimination and demanded inclusive and equal treatment for all.
“Through the courage and determination of these and countless others who have gone before us, we have slowly built a society that more fully reflects our founding creed of liberty and justice for all,” Ms. Lynch said. “That does not mean our work is finished; as you are all well aware, the opposite is true.”