US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz of Massachusetts says she is forming a team of prosecutors to focus on civil rights cases, including hate crimes, human trafficking, police misconduct, damage to religious property, and employment discrimination, reports the Boston Globe. She said 10 prosecutors already on staff will be assigned to the Civil Rights Enforcement Team, which will handle criminal and civil cases. The office has always prosecuted civil rights cases, but Ortiz says she has made it higher priority.
Ortiz said too often victims of hate crimes and other civil rights violations remain silent because they fear or distrust law enforcement. She made the announcement after the FBI hosted a conference in Boston to educate some 160 law enforcement officials, prosecutors, and community organizations about changes in the federal hate crimes law that expanded it to include protections for gays, lesbians, and transgender people. Hate crime prosecutions nationwide declined during the Bush presidency. The Justice Department prosecuted 10 hate crime cases in 2006, compared with 51 in 1996. The department has prosecuted 30 hate crimes cases since President Obama took office in January 2009.