WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (REUTERS) - The US Justice Department is investigating whether recent reports of intimidation and harassment, including in schools and at churches, violate federal hate crime and other civil rights laws, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch said on Friday (Nov 18), after a spike in reports of such incidents around the presidential election.
"Many Americans are concerned by a spate of recent news reports about alleged hate crimes and harassment... The FBI is assessing, in conjunction with federal prosecutors, whether particular incidents constitute violations of federal law,"Lynch said in a statement.
"We need you to continue to report these incidents to local law enforcement, as well as the Justice Department, so that our career investigators and prosecutors can take action to defend your rights," she added.
Civil rights groups have signalled alarm over what they say is a spate of incidents targeting minorities, including Muslim, black and Hispanic Americans, since Republican Donald Trump won the presidential election on Nov 8.
There have also been reports of harassment toward Trump supporters.
Federal hate crime laws increase the penalties for criminal behaviour that is motivated by bias against the victim based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other protected classifications.
Earlier this week, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released annual crime statistics for 2015 showing a 67 per cent increase from the previous year in hate crimes against Muslims.
During the campaign, Trump proposed temporarily keeping Muslims from entering the country to protect national security, though he has since backed away from a total ban.
The wealthy businessman and former reality television star has called for unity since the election. In a televised interview, Trump told people to stop engaging in attacks and intimidation.