Rep. Watson Coleman Urges Justice Department to Investigate Use of Racist Prosecutorial Tactics in Domestic Terrorism Cases

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Washington, DC, December 17, 2021 | comments

Today, Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, led three of her colleagues in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland calling for the Department of Justice to investigate the Department’s use of prosecutorial tactics that disproportionately harm Black and brown Americans. 

The letter reads in part:

This past June you gave remarks on the first National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism and spoke about the efforts to prevent similar attacks and to affirm the “values on which our justice system depends.” Particularly after the events of January 6th, we know that this work is critical to maintaining our democratic norms and to preventing domestic terror. At the same time, we must draw attention to an equally troubling issue: the weaponization of prosecutorial tactics, like the domestic terrorism enhancement, that harm Black and brown Americans disproportionately.  

Violent incidents must meet certain criteria, per the statutory definition of domestic terrorism laid out in the U.S. Constitution, for the Justice Department to prosecute the perpetrators as domestic terrorists. The ambiguous nature of these criteria, however, has enabled the DOJ to prosecute lesser offenses, such as property destruction or disorderly conduct, as incidents of domestic terrorism.

Historically, this has allowed the DOJ to impose more severe penalties on Black and brown Americans who committed minor offenses than on white Americans whose actions were more serious. For instance, Trump’s DOJ was hesitant to pursue domestic terrorism charges against violent far-right protesters at the 2017 Charlottesville rally but moved swiftly to pursue felony conspiracy cases against protestors at a January 20, 2017 protest who broke windows and set fire to a limousine. 

In the letter, Watson Coleman and her colleagues asked Attorney General Garland to thoroughly investigate the ways in which the DOJ uses its powers to target Black and brown Americans. Specifically, they asked that the DOJ begin clearly tracking and reporting data on all cases for which it seeks to pursue domestic terrorism enhancements.

The letter concludes:

In seeking justice, we must continue to be alert to how tools and strategies can often be weaponized disproportionately against minorities, particularly Black and brown communities. We must seek to create stricter guidelines and stronger oversight for prosecution. These issues must be addressed with the greatest urgency.

Signatories of the letter include Reps. Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Seth Moulton (MA-06).


The letter can be read in full here.


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