Garland responds to GOP attack on school safety memo: 'We can't wait until somebody dies'

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The attorney general said in a congressional hearing on Wednesday that he would've regretted not acting swiftly upon receiving reports of threats to school board officials' lives.

Attorney General Merrick Garland during congressional testimony on Wednesday defended a recent memo issued by the Justice Department on violent threats against school board officials, telling lawmakers "we can't wait until somebody dies" to take action on the issue.

The department issued the memo on Oct. 4, stating that it was probing the "disturbing spike in harassment" at schools following months of conservative attacks and harassment over policies supporting face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 and the inclusion of anti-racism curricula. The directive came after a letter from the National School Boards Association on Sept. 29 asking the White House for "immediate assistance" to "protect our students, school board members, and educators."

The association ultimately withdrew that letter over member backlash.

Republican officials, along with conservative media outlets like Fox News, quickly criticized the Justice Department memo, mischaracterizing the document as an attempt to censor parents, despite the fact that it made no mention of silencing parents or attacking conservative positions on school issues. They pointed to the fact that the school boards association had withdrawn its letter, arguing that because it was the basis for the Justice memo, the latter should be withdrawn as well.

During a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton (R) launched his own attack on the memo, alleging that it was improper for the department to release it in the first place and asking Garland why the department had moved "so fast."

"The question is why speed? The answer is when we get reports of violence and threats of violence we need to act very swiftly," Garland said. "I would have hated it, to have gotten this letter, and then acts of violence occurred in the interim before we were able to act."

From an Oct. 27 hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee:

TOM COTTON: How did your department move so fast on this matter?

 

MERRICK GARLAND: When an organization that represents thousands of school board members –

 

COTTON: They purport to represent thousands because state school boards across the country have been repudiating them and trying to withdraw their membership, that's why the National School Board Association withdrew its own letter. Who brought this to your attention?

 

GARLAND: May I answer the question?

 

COTTON: I'm asking you a question now – who brought this to your attention.

 

GARLAND: You asked me a question. May I answer the question? The question is why speed? The answer is when we get reports of violence and threats of violence we need to act very swiftly.

 

I would have hated it, to have gotten this letter, and then acts of violence occurred in the interim before we were able to act.

 

The only act here is assessing the circumstances. That's all there is here, and we can't wait until somebody dies. That's why we did this.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.