As racial tensions spilled onto the streets of America, the Trump administration repeatedly sought to overturn a longstanding Justice Department unit that has been mediating racial, ethnic, and gender clashes for decades, which are growing again across the country.
For four years, the DOJ’s Community Relations Service (CRS), established nearly 60 years ago by the landmark Civil Rights Act, was geared towards various types of downsizing and outright elimination, according to Trump budget proposals.
While Congressional intervention kept unity afloat, ongoing budget attacks and the Trump administration’s pursuit of tough immigration policies, as well as the withdrawal of some civil rights defenses, caused some cautious communities to turn down their aid.
The turmoil, said a senior judicial officer, has severely damaged public confidence in a long-trusted asset known as the “peacemaker program” in times of deep division in the United States. The official, who was not empowered to comment publicly, said some doors had been closed to the service due to lack of confidence during the previous administration.
John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said Trump’s Justice Department was “just not trustworthy.”
“That sentiment has impacted all aspects of the DOJ,” Yang said, even though AAJC was a member of Congress to keep the community relations service alive as the government threatened to cut its budget, which was between $ 15 million and $ 16 million US dollars lay to zero.
“We saw CRS as extremely valuable to color communities,” said Yang.
From Rodney King to AAPI incidents
A story of the Community Relations Service’s work reads like a timeline of America’s ongoing reckoning with race and discrimination:
From the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, sparked by the acquittal of four white cops from the flogging of Rodney King; the fatal shootings of the black victims Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida in 2012 and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014; The 2015 church massacre of nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina – Legal mediators traveled across the country to calm communities of conflict and loss.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, CRS workers intervened in Muslim and Arab-American communities to contain backlashes ranging from harassment to violence. When black churches burned in the south in the mid-1990s, mediators were sometimes sent to connect the prosecution with fearful black communities.
More recently, in 2017, CRS officials dispatched to Charlottesville, Virginia to monitor tension during the Unite the Right rally, which turned violent when white supremacists and other groups against the removal of Confederate statues clashed with counter-protesters. After the conflict, judicial officials stayed in the area to help community leaders “fix racial relations,” according to a summary of the unit’s work by the judiciary.
Earlier this year, when a backlash against the coronavirus sparked attacks on Asian Americans, CRS officials hosted virtual meetings with community groups in the San Francisco Bay Area and acted as intermediaries between local law enforcement and Asian business owners who set up their own patrols to protect shops and businesses Restaurants from vandalism and looting.
The staff was weakened under Trump
For the Trump administration, however, defusing the judiciary had become a sustained campaign. Whenever the administration has proposed that the various named program officials be eliminated, it is necessary to improve “efficiency” and “save money”.
The effort ultimately contributed to a downsizing from 74 funded positions at the height of the Obama administration to 34 by the end of the Trump presidency, though the service’s mission received a new urgency as violence and harassment against Asian Americans began to swell amid the coronavirus Pandemic.
Stop AAPI Hate, which is a self-reporting tool for harassment, discrimination and violent attacks, recorded 3,795 cases of anti-Asian discrimination in the US from its start on March 19, 2020 through February 28, 2021 prior to that month’s mass shootings in Atlanta, Georgia.
In this attack, six out of eight people killed were Asian. A motive for the killings has not been identified, although authorities have not ruled out the possibility of a hate crime.
Urges the Community Relations Service to focus on “beyond horrific” attacks on Asian Americans
Still, lawmakers have urged the Justice Department to re-focus attention on hate incidents targeting Asians amid a wave of racial attacks and harassment emerging from the coronavirus pandemic.
Last week, Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., Chairwoman of the Asia-Pacific Caucus described the Atlanta murders as “indescribable, but it only brings home so many Asian Americans that they fear their lives have and circumstances. “
The Justice Department declined to comment on whether CRS has been working on issues related to the shooting.
Yang said a key component of the Justice Department’s response should include a well-funded and replenished community relations service to expand its reach to troubled communities.
“One of our requests (to the Biden administration) is to ensure that the CRS has adequate resources,” said Yang. “CRS is part of the solution, but it’s an important part.”
Perhaps not since the Nixon administration saw such a dramatic drop in CRS staff when its staff dropped from about 323 to 100, said Grande Lum, the former director of the unit during the Obama administration and co-author of a book about the long history of unity of conflict resolution.
Lum, now a professor and provost at Menlo College in California, said the Obama Justice Department added $ 3 million to the unit’s budget over the course of the administration, often commending its work.
The stance was a marked departure from recent efforts to defuse unity as a whole.
“It’s absolutely demoralizing,” Lum said of the biggest drop. “One of the biggest problems is that people with a lot of experience have left the agency. I know that a lot of people (who are left) are overwhelmed. The point now is to get people to trust the communities,” when Der Demand is growing.
The deadly gunfights in Atlanta, Lum said, have pushed discrimination against Asia into “national consciousness”, although hate-related crime and harassment has been on the rise for months.
According to Lum, the CRS should be tripled to meet current needs.
“There just aren’t enough people to go around,” said Lum.