The Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS) released three videos today highlighting the impact of their work in Sanford, Florida [external link]; Duluth, Minnesota [external link]; and Jackson, Mississippi [external link]. These videos provide a sample of the successful services provided by CRS and the lasting impact made on communities.
“As the department’s ‘peacemaker’ for community conflicts and tensions, the Community Relations Service has one of the most demanding and critical jobs in the Department of Justice,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “By bringing together stakeholders from all walks of life for peaceful dialogue and meaningful cooperation, CRS helps give divided communities a chance to embark on a more hopeful and united path. For over 50 years, they have met the needs of communities across the country with unfailing skill and unflagging dedication. Our nation is a more just and peaceful place because of their efforts, and I want to thank CRS for its outstanding contributions throughout this administration.”
CRS’ involvement in Sanford followed the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and focused on building a relationship between faith leaders in the community and the city’s law enforcement. The video features interviews with Sanford’s Mayor, City Manager, the County Sherriff and members of the faith community who highlight CRS’ effort to institute regular meetings to discuss the legal proceedings which ensured open dialogue between law enforcement and local clergy. CRS also negotiated courtroom seating access for faith leaders so that they could gain firsthand knowledge of the trial and disseminate that information – free of misleading rumors – to their congregations and the community at large. In the video, Sanford’s City Manager, Norton Bonaparte, stressed that CRS was there to assist, but remained neutral while working to strengthen trust and facilitate discussions between law enforcement and the community.
CRS went to Duluth in response to a race-related cyber bullying incident involving the dissemination via social media of an offensive image at Denfeld High School. In response, CRS conducted a Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (SPIRIT) program. The SPIRIT program brought together more than 100 students, faculty, administrators and community leaders to discuss the inflammatory image as well as larger issues of race and class. In the video, the Principal of Denfeld High School Tonya Sconiers described CRS as a “catalyst for real change,” and encouraged other communities to reach out to CRS before, during and after times of crisis to ease tensions and build trust.
In Jackson, CRS facilitated a training for local law enforcement to help foster a stronger relationship with and better serve the transgender community. Unlike in Sanford or Duluth, CRS’ involvement was not prompted by a particular incident. Rather, leaders in Jackson raised concerns about the relationship between law enforcement and the transgender community, and proactively requested the training to improve understanding and avoid future issues. CRS led the training alongside local transgender community partners, who are shown in the video leading portions of the session. In the video, the local transgender trainers discuss the importance of their inclusion in the training, highlighting that it gave them the chance to speak for themselves and gave law enforcement the opportunity to engage in open dialogue with their community.
CRS was established under Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to resolve “disputes, disagreements or difficulties relating to discriminatory practices based on race, color or national origin.” It is not an investigatory or prosecutorial agency, and it does not have any law enforcement authority. Rather, CRS works with all parties, including state and local governments, private and public organizations, civil rights groups and local community leaders to uncover the underlying interests of all of those involved in the conflict and facilitate solutions to the community's challenges. Under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, CRS assists communities in developing local mechanisms and community capacity to prevent tension and violent hate crimes from occurring in the future. CRS works in all 50 states and the U.S. territories, and in communities large and small, rural, urban and suburban.