Politics

Former DOJ official: Civil rights unit sent to mediate anti-Zimmerman protests has history of advocacy

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Patrick Howley
Political Reporter

The Department of Justice civil rights unit sent to Sanford, Florida in 2012 to mediate the anti-George Zimmerman protests has a history of putting racial advocacy ahead of its mandated duties, according to a former head of the unit.

“At CRS headquarters, we (meaning I) regularly had to warn or take corrective action against career employees for acting as advocates instead of mediators,” Ondray Harris, the former director of the DOJ’s Community Relations Service (CRS), told The Daily Caller. CRS was the unit deployed to Sanford in 2012 to oversee anti-Zimmerman protests.

“Some CRS employees come to the Agency with anti-law enforcement or anti- what they would call the ‘white establishment’ [attitudes]” added Harris, an African American who joined CRS during the administration of George W. Bush in 2007 and left in 2010.

As The Daily Caller previously revealed, CRS reported expenses related to its deployment in Sanford to help manage anti-Zimmerman protests between March and April 2012, including a high-profile rally headlined by civil rights activist Al Sharpton. CRS also facilitated a meeting between Sanford city officials and the activist group Dream Defenders, which campaigned last year for a criminal case against Zimmerman to be brought for the killing of Trayvon Martin. Dream Defenders also advocated for the removal of Sanford police chief Bill Lee, who was eventually fired. The meeting was convened to discuss changes to the Sanford Police Department.

“The mission of CRS is to provide violence prevention and conflict resolution services for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, or national origin,” reads the mission statement of the agency, which was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “CRS is the only federal service mandated to help state and local government agencies, public and private organizations, and community groups resolve and prevent community racial conflicts through the use of mediation, conciliation, and other conflict resolution approaches.”

But the problem with CRS, Harris said, is the conflict “between being mediators versus being advocates.”

Tommy Battles, the regional director of the CRS’ Southeast Region who deployed to Sanford in 2012, is “black, and very pro-black,” said Harris.

“When I was nominated by President Bush to the Director position at CRS, Tommy Battles came to headquarters to meet me. In our introduction, he said, ‘I want to see you do well because as a black man if you do well then I am doing well, and the whole race does well,’” Harris said. “I thought to myself: ‘are you kidding me? There’s no room for such racial favoritism here.’ Eventually, I became even more concerned as Battles and others would openly share their extremely pro-minority [views] at the expense of the majority views. I felt such views compromised implementing the CRS mandate.”