Last week, in conjunction with a visit by Thomas Perez, assistant attorney general for civil rights, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, announced the creation of a civil rights unit in the Eastern District of Michigan.
“When anyone’s rights are violated, everyone’s rights are violated,” McQuade said, adding that since the civil right unit launched in May, it’s had much success.
“Just last week, we received a favorable ruling in the case of Glenn v. Holder, in which Judge Ludington up in Bay City dismissed a challenge to the Matthew Shepard-James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act,” McQuade said.
She called the act an important tool, enacted last October, which gives U.S. attorneys the ability to prosecute hate crimes cases. Investigations of hate crimes in the district are currently pending.
McQuade also cited the case of U.S. v. Ivanhoe apartments, which concerned an Ann Arbor apartment complex which was discriminating against African Americans.
“That case resolved with damages awarded to victims in that case,” McQuade said. “The ability to choose where you live is the very essence of, I think, choosing your destiny in America. It relates to everything that’s so important, including access to good education, access to transportation, access to jobs, and so I think it’s extremely important that we preserve that right for everybody.”
McQuade also said that last month, her office successfully tried case of U.S. v. Johnson in which a landlord was sexually harassing low- income female tenants at rental homes in Ypsilanti. The landlord was demanding sex in exchange for housing.
She said that case resulted in both compensatory and punitive damages.
“The message we want to (send) today is that we are open for business in the civil rights unit,” McQuade said. “If someone’s been the victim of a hate crime, we’ll take your case. If someone’s been the victim of discrimination in housing, we’ll take your case. If someone has been denied access based on a disability, we’ll take your case. If a service member has been denied employment because of his inability to be present in the United States, we’ll take your case.”
Perez, who was a civil rights prosecutor before leading the department, said civil rights enforcement is a top priority for both President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder, and that they have committed unprecedented resources, along with a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress, to enhance civil rights enforcement across the department.
Perez also said McQuade’s efforts serve as a model for all 94 U.S. attorneys’ offices across the county and that 10 of them have established similar units.
He noted a remarkable synergy between the Department of Justice and McQuade’s office by having the DOJ’s teams of civil rights lawyers that cover a wide range of civil rights areas working side by side with the civil rights office in the U.S. Attorney’s office.
In addition to the fair housing and sexual discrimination cases McQuade mentioned, Perez said they also do match pair testing to uncover racial discrimination. He said a White person and an African- American person who are identical in every respect except skin color, go into a rental agency to rent housing.
These often reveal blatant examples of discrimination. In one Alabama case, the White tester was told, “You’ll love this apartment building. We don’t rent to Black people.”
Perez said those types of operations enable the Department of Justice to uncover and root out discrimination in very meaningful ways.
“We work very closely with fair housing groups in this area, and the new civil right unit, in partnership with our division, is going to enable us to redouble our efforts, not only in the fair housing context, but our efforts to address a wide array of issues of discrimination against Muslim and Arab-Americans residing in the Metro Detroit area.”
One area of concern is the spike of incidents of potential hate crimes against Muslim-Americans, Arab- Americans and other groups.
“This unit again enables us to redouble our efforts in concert with the FBI and other federal law enforcement, and ensure we’re doing our level best to protect people who are victims of discrimination,” Perez said.
He added that the assistant U.S. Attorneys are seasoned trial lawyers who are committed to the aggressive and fair enforcement of these civil rights laws.
Perez speaks to McQuade with regularity to get updates on high profile cases.
He said the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Department of Justice don’t know what is going on unless people report incidents of discrimination or other civil rights violations. If not, those who commit them will feel emboldened to do more.
He pointed out that a robust amount of data shows that two-thirds of all crimes get solved within 48 to 72 hours of being committed.
To report suspected civil rights violations, call (313) 226-9151.