Thursday, December 2, 2021

Garland defends student council memo against Republican criticism

WASHINGTON (AP) – Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday defended a memorandum aimed at tackling threats to school officials across the country, while Republicans pushed for the directive to be repealed. He made it clear that he has no plans to do so, despite their criticism.

The memo took center stage when Garland stood before the Senate Judicial Committee – his second congressional speech in a week – and said it was designed to respond to violence and threats of violence against local school board officials.

The note came out on October 4, less than a week after the National School Boards Association wrote to the Biden administration about threats to school officials and asked for help. Some school board meetings have turned into screaming contests on issues such as teaching about race, masks in schools, COVID-19 vaccines, and testing requirements.

Republicans say Garland has gone too far in directing Justice Department departments to coordinate with local law enforcement. In his memo, Garland said there has been “an alarming surge in harassment, intimidation and threats of violence against school administrators, councilors, teachers and staff who are involved in the vital work of running our nation’s public schools.”

The accompanying press release mentioned the FBI, the department’s criminal division, the national security division, the civil rights division, and other divisions.

“The responsibility of the Department of Justice is to protect the American people from violence and threats of violence, including government officials,” Garland said.

Republicans on the Senate committee also took advantage of a memo from Leif Johnson, acting US attorney in Montana, the state attorney general, district attorneys, sheriffs and state school officials. The memorandum describes federal crimes that can be used to prosecute violence, stalking, or intimidation of school board officials.

A memo from Montana, obtained by the Associated Press, mentions about a dozen federal statues as the result of a conspiracy to disenfranchise anyone of their civil rights to harassment and “anonymous telephone harassment.” It instructs recipients to contact the FBI “if you believe someone has violated one of these laws.”

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Garland told the Senators that he was never sent a memo from the US attorney, and he does not know the details about it. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Montana did not immediately respond to questions about whether Johnson consulted with senior Justice Department officials prior to issuing the memo.

“I’ve never seen this note,” Garland said. “Nobody sent me this note, so I haven’t seen it.”

Since then, the National School Boards Association has stated “We are sorry and sorry” for its letter asking for federal assistance in tackling harassment and violence against school officials and said some of these actions may be “domestic terrorism.”

The initial letter to the federal government asked to investigate cases where threats or violence could be considered a violation of federal civil rights laws. The association has asked the Department of Justice, FBI, Homeland Security and Secret Services to help monitor threat levels and assess risks to students, teachers, board members, and school buildings.

The letter documented more than 20 incidents of threats, harassment, abuse and intimidation in California, Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, Ohio and other states. He referred to the September arrest of an Illinois man for aggravated beatings and hooliganism for allegedly hitting a school official at a meeting. In Michigan, a rally was disrupted when a man gave a Nazi salute to protest the disguise.

Garland said parents have the right to voice their concerns to school boards, but his biggest concern is whether it will escalate into violence or when threats arise. During interrogation on Wednesday, Garland said the Nazi salute would be protected by the First Amendment. He also admitted that he had no data on the number of incidents.

At least two Republican senators – Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas and Josh Hawley of Missouri – have called on Garland to step down because he processed the memorandum.

“It’s shameful,” Cotton exclaimed. “You should resign in disgrace.”

Nation World News Desk
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