Did the Department of Justice help generate protests in Florida over the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman case? Or did their Community Relations Service unit attempt to moderate their tone? Judicial Watch discovered that the CRS spent some time and money participating in the protests in the spring of 2012, thanks to a trove of documents from a wide-ranging FOIA request:
JW filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requested with the DOJ on April 24, 2012; 125 pages were received on May 30, 2012. JW administratively appealed the request on June 5, 2012, and received 222 pages more on March 6, 2013. According to the documents:
- March 25 – 27, 2012, CRS spent $674.14 upon being “deployed to Sanford, FL, to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.”
- March 25 – 28, 2012, CRS spent $1,142.84 “in Sanford, FL to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.
- March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent $892.55 in Sanford, FL “to provide support for protest deployment in Florida.”
- March 30 – April 1, 2012, CRS spent an additional $751.60 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31.”
- April 3 – 12, 2012, CRS spent $1,307.40 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance, conciliation, and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford.”
- April 11-12, 2012, CRS spent $552.35 in Sanford, FL “to provide technical assistance for the preparation of possible marches and rallies related to the fatal shooting of a 17 year old African American male.” – expenses for employees to travel, eat, sleep?
From a Florida Sunshine Law request filed on April 23, 2012, JW received thousands of pages of emails on April 27, 2012, in which was found an email by Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board Program Officer Amy Carswell from April 16, 2012: “Congratulations to our partners, Thomas Battles, Regional Director, and Mildred De Robles, Miami-Dade Coordinator and their co-workers at the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service for their outstanding and ongoing efforts to reduce tensions and build bridges of understanding and respect in Sanford, Florida” following a news article in the Orlando Sentinel about the secretive “peacekeepers.”
In reply to that message, Battles said: “Thank you Partner. You did lots of stuff behind the scene to make Miami a success. We will continue to work together.” He signed the email simply Tommy.
Carswell responded: “That’s why we make the big bucks.”
Some involvement of the CRS in the controversy had already been reported. The Orlando Sentinel noted on April 15, 2012 that the agency had set up a meeting between the NAACP and the local police, which resulted in a temporary resignation of the police chief, Bill Lee. The Sentinel also reported that the CRS had arranged for police escorts for protesters to make the 40-mile trek from Daytona Beach to Sanford.
The full extent of the CRS involvement in the protests, though, had not been known until now. The question is what the CRS was doing. If the DoJ was concerned that protests would get out of hand and turn violent, then mediation would have been a good choice. According to the descriptions, though, it appears that the CRS was more of a participant and organizer of the protests than a mediator of them. The sums of money don’t appear that large, but March 25 through April 12 is almost three weeks worth of time and effort.
The Daily Caller asked the DoJ for comment, but the spokesperson didn’t have any information on the issue at the time. With the Zimmerman case going to the jury and a verdict certain to create controversy no matter how the jury rules, perhaps Congress should look into the DoJ’s actions to determine whether they were trying to calm the waters — or trying to bring them to a boil.