CRS was originally established as part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to assist communities with issues related to racial and ethnic conflict and hate crimes. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009 expanded CRS’s mission to help communities respond to hate crimes based on actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, or disability.
CRS has supported hundreds of communities facing divisive issues from Selma to Sanford. The DCP Director Grande Lum is a former CRS Director and is widely quoted regarding DOJ’s proposal to eliminate funding for CRS.
Grande Lum, who led the Community Relations Service from 2012 to 2016, told BuzzFeed News that eliminating the office in its current form would “be an absolute tragedy.”
“We are at a time when there’s increased division in communities throughout this country, so this is a time to increase [funding], not to eliminate it,” said Lum, who leads the Divided Community Project at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. “They worked closely with Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders to help create positive, constructive outcomes and it would be really frustrating if that were shuttered forever.”
Lum questioned the department’s authority to cut funding and employees, since the office was specifically established by Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Lum said he could not recall another time when an administration had proposed getting rid of it. Lum was the office’s last Senate-confirmed director. Trump has not nominated a replacement; an acting official has been leading the office in the meantime.
“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 [to] 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,” Monroe wrote. “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.”
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