Skip to main content
Press Release

U.S. Attorney Mark Totten Announces Civil Rights Team, United Against Hate Initiative

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Western District of Michigan

          GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN — U.S. Attorney Mark Totten today announced the formation of a Civil Rights Team in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Michigan. This team will focus on enforcing federal civil rights laws across the Western District of Michigan, as well as conducting regular community outreach regarding civil rights and hate crimes.

          “Protecting civil rights is central to our mission and we’re prepared to take on hate and discrimination wherever we have the power to do so,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “Every person and every community deserve equal protection under the law. It’s part of the American promise and we’re committed to making sure it’s a reality here in Michigan.”

          U.S. Attorney Totten previewed this announcement during his remarks at the Greater Grand Rapids Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) Freedom Fund Program last Friday.


Totten GR NAACP Event

          The Civil Rights Team includes federal prosecutors and staff from the Office’s Criminal and Civil Divisions. Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) Nils Kessler and AUSA Stephanie Carowan will serve as the lead prosecutors on criminal matters, including hate crimes and unlawful threats. AUSA Laura Babinsky and AUSA Kalen Pruss will serve as lead on civil matters, enforcing federal civil rights laws regarding discrimination, disability access, environmental justice, sexual harassment, voting rights, and other matters. U.S. Attorney Mark Totten has appointed AUSA Kessler as the Civil Rights Coordinator on Criminal Matters and AUSA Babinsky as the Civil Rights Coordinator on Civil Matters. The team will work closely with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division and coordinate with other Department components and local, state, federal, and tribal agencies as needed.

          In addition, U.S. Attorney Totten also announced the launch of the Office’s United Against Hate Initiative. This program, part of a nationwide effort by the U.S. Department of Justice, aims to combat unlawful acts of hate. The program will consist of ongoing local forums that connect community groups to federal, state, and local law enforcement to increase community understanding and reporting of hate crimes; build trust between law enforcement and communities; and create and strengthen alliances between law enforcement and other government partners and community groups to combat unlawful acts of hate.

          “Combatting hate requires close relationships between law enforcement and civil rights, faith, and other community groups,” said U.S. Attorney Mark Totten. “Our United Against Hate Initiative is designed to educate the public about civil rights, the work we are doing to protect civil rights, and how to report violations. At the same time, we will also listen to people’s experiences, so we better understand what people are facing.”

          Program topics include defining hate crimes versus hate incidents; the importance of reporting unlawful acts of hate; providing options for responding to hate incidents when situations do not constitute a federal or state crime; and distinguishing unlawful conduct from protected First Amendment activity, including identifying protected speech versus speech that advocates violence or encourages people to commit hate crimes.

          In addition to his work in the Western District of Michigan, U.S. Attorney Mark Totten also serves as a member of the Attorney General Advisory Committee’s Civil Rights Subcommittee since taking office in May 2022. In March 2023 he traveled to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama to join more than 30 other U.S. Attorneys from across the county as part of a delegation to commemorate the 58th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” and the subsequent passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

          Anyone wishing to report a civil rights violation related to voting, housing, employment, education, the workplace, business, healthcare, or other public spaces can call the Office’s Civil Rights Hotline at 616-808-2195 or email Individuals reporting a hate crime or criminal threat can call the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI. Anyone facing imminent harm should call 911.   


Updated October 23, 2023

Civil Rights