Manhattan U.S Attorney Forms New Civil Rights Unit

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Manhattan’s new U.S. attorney said Friday that he’s forming a civil rights section within his criminal division, with Attorney General Merrick Garland looking on, to focus more resources on problems that are growing in “troubled times.”

U.S. Attorney Damian Williams made the remarks after Manhattan Chief U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain swore him in as the first Black senior federal law enforcement official in the Southern District of New York, one of the country’s busiest offices.

“White nationalist organizations are on the rise. Antisemitism is gaining ground. Anti-Asian terrorism is on the rise. “Abuse of our society’s most vulnerable is on the rise, including, by the way, abuse of jailed women and men who have lost their liberty but not their right to be kept safe,” Williams added. He claimed the office’s criminal division’s civil rights unit was a “long overdue” upgrade. The civil division of the office also contains a civil rights unit, which was established in 1971.

“To let them know that they have my attention and ear,” Williams said he wanted to meet with community partners, church groups, advocacy organizations, and young people.

Col. William Hayward, a white barrister who became Manhattan U.S. attorney in 1921, commanded the Hellfighters, who spent more days fighting in World War I than any other Army unit. He hired the first Black federal prosecutor in Manhattan, a former Hellfighter, as well as the first female prosecutor in the office.

Williams, age- 41, worked as a legal clerk for Garland while he was a Federal Circuit judge in Washington, and Schumer nominated him for the post of United States Attorney.

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Williams got all up in his statement, thanking his family and recent predecessors, including Audrey Strauss, whom he succeeded when his nomination was confirmed three weeks ago; Preet Bharara, who recruited him; and Joon Kim, who “recognized something unique in me,” according to Williams.

When he cited Geoffrey S. Berman, a Republican who served as US attorney for much of Donald Trump’s presidency, he received a round of applause. Berman became renowned in the “Sovereign District of New York,” as prosecutors jokingly refer to it, for defying Washington’s orders, and resigned in June 2020 following a dispute with then-Attorney General William Barr over probes against Trump’s cronies.

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