U.S. Justice Dept orders review that grantees obey civil rights laws

Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.
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By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta this week ordered the Justice Department to review whether it is adequately monitoring police departments and other recipients of its federal grants to ensure they are not engaging in "illegal discrimination."

The review was ordered in a Sept. 15 memo made public on Thursday. For years, major civil rights organizations have complained the Justice Department was too lax in funding organizations such as police departments that have engaged in racial profiling and other overly aggressive and discriminatory enforcement aimed at Black and brown communities.

“Law enforcement agencies engaged in discriminatory policing practices should not receive and utilize taxpayer-supported grants," said NAACP Legal Defense Fund President Sherrilyn Ifill, who has long called on the department to claw back funds from troublesome police departments.

“Today’s announcement by the DOJ...is an important step toward making sure that federal funds are not used in a discriminatory manner by state and local law enforcement agencies."

The Justice Department's grant-making arms collectively award more than $4 billion a year to states, municipalities and local victims service providers and research institutions.

Grant winners are prohibited from using public money to discriminate against people because of race, national origin, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation.

"This review is intended to ensure that the department is

providing sufficient oversight and accountability regarding the activities of its federally-funded recipients," Gupta wrote in her memo to other top department officials.

More broadly, Attorney General Merrick Garland has been stepping up the Justice Department's enforcement of federal civil rights laws, an area that was not prioritized under former President Donald Trump.

The actions also follow a wave of protests across the United States last summer against systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Garland in recent months announced the Civil Rights Division was launching investigations into patterns of possibly discriminatory practices by police departments in Minneapolis, Louisville and Phoenix.

(Reporting by Sarah N. LynchEditing by Marguerita Choy and David Gregorio)

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