Kristen Clarke took the position of Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights in the U.S. Justice Department last May after an already lengthy career in civil rights legal matters. But she joined the Biden Administration at a time when the country was at a crossroads, healing from the insurrection on the Capitol, an attempt to eradicate tenants of voting rights, and an increase in police violence and hate crimes.
CBS News’ Chief National Affairs and Justice Correspondent Jeff Pegues sat down with Clarke recently as the nation prepares to mark the federal holiday commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Here’s a snapshot on what Clarke believes are points of progress that we have made as Americans and the challenges that still remain ahead.
On the state of Civil Rights in America today: “We have made a lot of progress as a nation. But we've still got a long way to go. And, you know, I am in this job, leading the civil rights division at a time when we're still seeing problems when it comes to voting rights, hate crimes, criminal justice, fair housing, education, and so much more. So it's a story of progress, but a moment to really reflect on the fact that we've still got a long way to go.”
On the continued fight for voting rights:
“Voting discrimination is alive and well. And our work to protect the right to vote is central to what we do in the civil rights division.It's central to the mission for this attorney general, ensuring that all Americans, but especially those who are most vulnerable are able to freely access the ballot is an important priority. There is no doubt that we are seeing efforts to make it harder for people of color and other marginalized groups to vote. And so we can't turn our back on that important work to make sure that everyone has a voice in our democracy.”
On the DOJ’s plan of attack against hate crimes:
“It is a priority for Attorney General [Merrick] Garland and for this department, and especially for us in the Civil Rights division. The data shows a 70% increase when it comes to Asian-American Pacific Islanders. Black people remain the group most frequently targeted by hate. This sadly is a problem that has beleaguered us as a country for centuries. But we're using the tools that we have, like the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act to hold perpetrators accountable. Just last year, we secured a life sentence for a man who killed-- Black people at a Kroger store in Kentucky for one reason, and one reason only, because of the color of their skin. So, this is an important priority for us. And we're gonna do all that we can to hold perpetrators accountable until we eliminate hate from our society, root and branch.”
See the full interview with Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke on Monday Jan. 17 between 7-9am ET on CBS Mornings.