Justice Dept. proposes eliminating office that helps communities combat racial conflict
President Trump’s proposed budget released Monday would eliminate a Justice Department office created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to help communities combat racial tensions.
The Community Relations Service would be entirely defunded and its responsibilities would be folded into the department’s Civil Rights Division, BuzzFeed News reported Monday.
Lee Lofthus, who heads Justice’s administrative office, told reporters that the division would be able to continue the office’s work without the employees currently working at the service. He added that officials decided to propose removing the office because of a “reorganization challenge” to save money, according to BuzzFeed.
The Community Relations Service was established in 1964 to help communities handle conflict related to “race, color, or national origin,” a directive that was later expanded to include gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religious and disability issues.
The office also began working on issues tied to hate crimes in 2009, after Congress passed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
Employees at the service lead trainings on conflict resolution and also offer mediation for community members, including among law enforcement, activists and local officials.
Civil rights advocates say that dismantling the office could send a negative message about the Justice Department’s stance on improving community relations with law enforcement.
Grande Lum, who ran the office from 2012 to 2016, said eliminating the service “would be really frustrating” because of the work civil rights leaders had done to create it.
“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,” Lum told BuzzFeed.
“They worked closely with Martin Luther King [Jr.] and other civil rights leaders to help create positive, constructive outcomes and it would be really frustrating if that were shuttered forever,” he added.