To Prevent More George Floyd Tragedies, We Need Federal Peacemakers to Bring Communities and Law Enforcement Together
by Grande Lum and Grace Flores-Hughes
We are former Directors of the Community Relations Service (CRS) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) who have served in both Republican and Democratic administrations. Each of us was confirmed with broad bipartisan support by the U.S. Senate. Each of us individually took the oath to defend the Constitution and pursue the administration of justice without partisan bias. Today we come together to mourn the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and numerous others, and to call on the Trump Administration to empower the Community Relations Service, which is charged with resolving racial conflicts, and which this Administration has targeted for elimination.
The current administration’s misguided effort to eliminate CRS has placed this country into a much more vulnerable position when it comes to law enforcement-community relations. Specifically, undermining CRS has made it much harder for communities to exercise a partnership voice in creating real change toward racial justice. Throughout the last three plus years, the current administration has sought to eliminate CRS’ budget and move the function of the agency to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Doing so would be unwise and unworkable given that the Civil Rights Division has an investigatory and litigation function, which is vastly different from CRS’ conciliation and mediation function. Working as mediators and not investigators, CRS conciliators work with community leaders, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs to have much more open dialogue that can lead to substantive policy changes and more collaborative and resilient relationships.
The Community Relations Service is a DOJ agency whose mission was created by the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Per Title X of the Act, “the function of the Service (CRS) is to provide assistance to communities and persons therein resolving disputes disagreements or difficulties relating to the discriminatory practices based on race, color, or national origin which impair the rights of persons in such communities under the Constitution or laws of the United States or which affect or may affect interstate commerce.”