President’s Budget Would Eliminate Important “Peacemaker” Agency Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964
President Trump’s 2019 budget would effectively eliminate an agency created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to help communities address tension associated with allegations of discrimination on the basis of race, color and national origin. The Community Relations Service (CRS), known as the “Peacemaker” within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), helps communities develop the capacity to prevent and respond to violent hate crimes committed on the basis of actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.
With the alarming rise in hate incidents and hate crimes nationwide, and the surge in violent tensions sparked by white supremacists and other bigots across the country, the work of CRS is more critical than ever.
CRS works behind the scenes, providing impartial and confidential conciliation and mediation services intended to enhance local capacity to alleviate, solve, and respond to future conflicts more effectively. Yet in his budget proposal President Trump, who claims to be fighting for police, seeks to eliminate an agency frequently hailed by law enforcement leaders across the country for its contributions to public safety.
Trump’s budget states that it would transfer CRS’s activities to the Civil Rights Division, but in reality such a move would effectively lead to a shutdown of the office. One of the reasons CRS is effective is because it is not an investigative nor prosecutorial component of the DOJ. Instead, it works through regional offices deliver services tailored to a community’s needs. For mayors, chiefs, sheriffs, and community leaders alike, the fact that CRS is not involved in prosecutions or investigations makes it possible for leaders to ask for the assistance without fear of facing a lawsuit.
As Acting Director of CRS in the Obama administration, I experienced firsthand the power of working with people on the ground in the wake of tragic events and the impact that CRS can make in local communities working to prevent hate violence.
Following the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, in 2012, I saw my extraordinary colleagues work in Sanford, Florida, with the city manager, police chief, sheriff’s department, and mayor to foster communication between local community leaders, students, law enforcement, and other government leaders to keep protests safe and reduce tension. In another city, following the stabbing death of a transgender woman, CRS brought together local ofﬁcials and community leaders by facilitating meetings that led to the inclusion of transgender members of the community in the police chief’s regular roundtable discussions to help realize their shared commitment to improving public safety. We worked with local officials confronted with the rise of white supremacist activity in their area, and helped bring Muslim community leaders seeking to build a mosque together with local government leaders in a town that wanted all its citizens to feel safe and welcome.
The locations and conditions of our work varied greatly, but what remained constant was the outstanding commitment of dedicated CRS public servants across the country to the work. Our work was not to advance a partisan agenda or to score political points. It simply was to empower leaders in every city, county, and state to create stronger communities.
Nearly 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., now is not the time to end CRS’s important work to advance American ideals that we all value. Now is the time to reflect on the progress we have made as a society and to reach higher to achieve Dr. King’s dream that our nation live up to its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.”
Just as in 1964, we understand now that the wisdom and strength to address discrimination and to prevent and respond more effectively to hate crimes lies not in lawyers nor in politicians, but in community leaders across the country. As the Director of the Stop Hate Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, I continue to have the opportunity to learn from the people we serve about how to most effectively come together across different communities to combat hate.
From Selma to Memphis, and from Wounded Knee to the Lower Ninth Ward, dedicated CRS staff members have protected the rights of citizens and worked hard to build a stronger nation in which all individuals can live freely. The historic and important contributions made by CRS are not just a line item to be tossed aside, as Trump’s budget suggests. The civil and human rights of all individuals are too priceless for that.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a Communities Against Hate partner, leads the Stop Hate Project. The Stop Hate Project works to strengthen the capacity of community leaders, local government, law enforcement, and organizations around the country to combat hate by connecting these groups with legal and social services resources and creating new ones in response to identified needs. The Project’s resource and reporting hotline for hate incidents, 1–844–9-NO-HATE (1–844–966–4283), connects people and organizations combating hate with the resources and support they need.