Most troubling, though, is the question of just how seriously these crimes — which affect not only the victim singled out for bias but also entire communities — are being treated in the nation’s capital.
An investigation by The Post’s Michael E. Miller and Steven Rich detailed how prosecutions of hate crimes have plummeted in the District, even as the number of people arrested on those charges has soared. The problem is not so much with D.C. police, which, after a slow start in enforcing the 1989 law that allows enhanced sentences for bias-related crimes, has become among the country’s most aggressive departments in identifying and investigating potential hate crimes.
The issue seems to be with the U.S. attorney’s office, which, according to The Post’s analysis, filed hate-crime charges in just four of the 113 bias-motivated cases it received from police for 2017 and 2018. That contrasts with prosecutors filing hate-crime charges in 44 of the roughly 100 cases received from police between 2012 and 2015 (in addition to hate-crime charges filed in seven cases that were not flagged by police as bias-motivated).
U.S. Attorney Jessie K. Liu, who took office in September 2017 after being named by President Trump, has declined to talk to the media and, to date, has not responded to a letter from D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) requesting information about prosecution of hate crimes against LGBTQ people. No doubt these crimes are often difficult to prosecute because the government must establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant was motivated by prejudice. That, though, doesn’t explain the nosedive in prosecutions, which stands in contrast to the records of other cities in which local crimes are prosecuted by local officials rather than the U.S. attorney. Why, for example, was the man who shot his construction co-worker given a lenient plea deal that even the judge said is “not the right sentence”? Ms. Liu needs to be more forthcoming about decisions made by her office.
It’s encouraging that she has added another coordinator for hate-crime prosecutions and last month promised that the District’s Hate-Bias Task Force would be more engaged on the issue. Let’s hope the result is tangible action that will help to deter hate crimes.