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First black Manhattan US attorney sworn into office, announces new civil rights unit

First black Manhattan US attorney sworn into office,
announces new civil rights unit 1

Damian Williams, the first black person to be appointed US attorney for the Southern District of New York, was sworn into office Friday — and announced the formation of a new civil rights unit in his powerful federal prosecutor’s office. 

In a ceremony at the Harlem Armory, Williams said that under his leadership, the office will prioritize, among other issues, what he called “civil rights enforcement.” 

“You know and I know we are living in troubled times,” Williams said.

“White supremacist groups are on the march. Anti-Semitism is on the march. Anti-Asian bias is on the march. Abuse of the most vulnerable in our society is on the march,” he added. 

“So I am proud to announce today that I have created a brand new civil rights unit in the criminal division of my office.”

The new unit will build on work an existing civil rights unit in the office’s civil division has carried out for decades, Williams said.

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Damien Williams at his investiture ceremony on Nov. 19, 2021.
Alec Tabak
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the swearing in ceremony of Damien Williams at the Harlem Armory on November 19, 2021 in New York.
Attorney General Merrick Garland made an appearance at the ceremony.
Alec Tabak
Sen. Chuck Schumer also appeared at Williams' ceremony.
Sen. Chuck Schumer also appeared at Williams’ ceremony.
Alec Tabak

The ceremony — which also featured remarks by Sen. Chuck Schumer and Attorney General Merrick Garland — was held at the armory in a nod to the “Harlem Hellfighers,” an all-black Army regiment that trained at the facility prior to fighting in World War I under French command.

The leader of the Hellfighters, a white lawyer named William Hayward, served as US attorney for the Southern District of New York after the war. During his time in the office, Hayward appointed the first black man and the first woman to serve as assistant US attorneys. 

Col William Hayward standing in a trench where his troops train for the war in Europe.
Col. William Hayward standing in a trench where his troops train for the war in Europe.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
United States Attorney-elect for the Southern District of New York Damian Williams, right, and his wife, Jennifer Nicole Wynn, listen to the national anthem during Williams' swearing-in ceremony, Friday, Nov. 19, 2021
Williams said that people are now “living in troubled times.”
Jeenah Moon/AP

About 500 people attended Williams’ swearing in, known as an investiture ceremony, including former top federal prosecutors Geoffrey Berman, Preet Bharara, Joon Kim and Audrey Strauss.

Williams, 41, has inherited a number of high-profile investigations and prosecutions in his new role, including the Ghislaine Maxwell trial and an ongoing probe into Rudy Giuliani, who also once served as US attorney in the office.       

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