July 17, 2013
By Hans A. von Spakovsky
Whatever one may think about the guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman — and a jury found him innocent — we should all agree that the chief law enforcement agency of the federal government should not be involved in stage-managing public protests.
Yet according to the documents obtained by Judicial Watch through a Freedom of Information Act request, the Community Relations Service at Eric Holder’s Department of Justice “deployed to Sanford, FL, to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen.”
The Community Relations Service provided “support for protest deployment” and “technical assistance” to event organizers for a march and rally on March 31. According to the Orlando Sentinel, Community Relations Service staff even helped organize a meeting between the city of Sanford and the local NAACP that resulted in the temporary resignation of police chief Bill Lee.
One of the local pastors whose church was the focal point of protests aptly summarized the bias of Community Relations Service when she was quoted as saying that it was “there for us.”
Apparently, it wasn’t “there” for Zimmerman.
If in fact the Community Relations Service was helping train and organize protesters against Zimmerman, not only was the DOJ potentially interfering in a local law enforcement investigation and prosecution, but the service was violating its own mandate.
As its website explains, the Community Relations Service is the “peacemaker” for community conflicts. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is supposed to assist in “preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony.” It is not supposed to be raising racial tensions by helping to organize protests.
The Community Relations Service says on its website that it “does not take sides among disputing parties” and provides “impartial meditation practices.”
But it failed to avoid taking sides or provide “impartial” services in Sanford.
Lawyers in the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ are already looking at whether they can still pursue Zimmerman with a civil rights violation. But the bias shown by the Community Relations Service and its interference in local affairs should disqualify the DOJ from pursuing such charges.
One thing certainly should happen: Congress needs to hold an oversight hearing regarding the Community Relations Service’s potentially unethical involvement in the Zimmerman case.
- Hans A. von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation, is a former counsel to the Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.
First appeared in The Detroit News
Hans A. von Spakovsky
Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
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