Grande Lum, former director of the Community Relations Service (CRS), just published an important article in The Hill newspaper urging Congress to maintain independent funding for the agency.
“Historically, CRS has played a significant role in facilitating dialogue, developing constructive relationships, and reducing the possibility of violence. Its mediators and conciliators played a key role in mediating in Selma by keeping people safe as they crossed the Pettus Bridge after Bloody Sunday; in Boston by preventing violence against students in the wake of desegregation orders; and at Wounded Knee by helping to end peacefully the American Indian Movement occupation. . . .
“The president’s budget plans to transfer CRS’s services to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. This would effectively end CRS’s mediation and conciliation function. The Civil Rights Division is an investigative and prosecutorial agency. Law enforcement officials and community members who engage CRS understand the voluntariness and impartiality of mediation interactions. Especially critical is the Civil Rights Act confidentiality requirement, which precludes CRS mediators from relaying information gained in doing their work to other Justice Department agencies or components. People would understandably fear prosecution if Civil Rights Division attorneys presented themselves as mediators.”
Eliminating CRS’s confidential mediation function would abandon a proven means of resolving painful conflict and risk further escalation of social conflict. Regardless of party or political philosophy, everyone should support continuation of an effective CRS. Considering the heightened polarization in recent years, we need CRS now more than ever.
Grande is the director of the Ohio State Divided Community Project and previously was the director of Hastings’s Center for Negotiation and Dispute Resolution.