This week, Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr., formally installed Grande H. Lum as the ninth Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service (CRS). See the press release here.
The Community Relations Service (CRS) is an agency created within the U.S. Department of Justice by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. At the time of its inception, CRS worked with Dr. Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders to address tensions arising from differences of race, color and national origin. CRS continues that work today, and pursuant to the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009, supports local efforts to prevent and respond to violent hate crimes committed on the basis of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
As the agency’s director, I am proud of being the leader of an elite group of conciliation specialists. Like so many families who have immigration in their history, my grandparents and their children came to this country at a time when they were faced with immense challenges. My maternal grandfather first lived in New Orleans and my paternal grandfather within various Northern California communities including rural ones. My grandparents struggled but they made opportunities possible for their children and grandchildren that they themselves would never have.
My mother often reminds me that her father, who passed away before I was born, was considered a wise mediator in his town located within the Guangzhou province of China. I am honored to follow in his footsteps, serving as the director of the component of the Department of Justice that is dedicated to resolving conflicts over issues that have historically divided this great country. To be leading an agency that is dedicated to creating a safer and more welcome environment for my daughter and son as well as for all of America’s children is a humbling thought.
This mission of CRS came into sharp focus for me on Sunday, August 5, 2012 and the days thereafter. Within hours of the Oak Creek, Wisconsin Gurdwara shootings that day, CRS was in contact with national and local Sikh officials, the US Attorney’s Office, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and White House Counsel on Faith Based Initiatives. CRS helped facilitate improved communication between law enforcement and community members, providing contact information for key law enforcement officials.
On Wednesday, August 8, CRS, along with United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin James Santelle, facilitated a key leadership meeting to discuss hate crimes, analyze community concerns over the shooting, coordinate law enforcement and assess community needs for funerals, as well as planned and moderated a larger community meeting on Thursday, August 9 for more than 250 people from the greater Milwaukee area at Oak Creek High School. CRS also participated in three community calls with a total of over 200 participants following the shooting to identify resources, provide technical assistance, and address concerns. On Friday, August 10, Attorney General Eric Holder delivered a speech at the Oak Creek Memorial Service, honoring the victims and families affected by the tragedy, and on Thursday, August 23, First Lady Michelle Obama visited the Sikh American families affected by the tragedy in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
CRS facilitated sessions across the country with Sikh community leaders and law enforcement officials to address fear and concerns raised in communities across all CRS regions. CRS has also responded to requests from Muslim communities following the shootings. These included sessions with USAOs and federal and local law enforcement offices. CRS provided services such as dialogue facilitation, meeting of federal and local government officials, and cultural training for law enforcement and communities seeking to better understand Sikhism and Islam. These meetings provided resources, information and demonstrated a Federal presence indicating willingness to serve all the communities in the wake of the shootings. There are numerous follow-up meetings scheduled around the country with Mosques and Gurdwaras seeking CRS’ assistance in educating about their communities and creating dialogue and understanding.
But even before the August 5th tragedy, CRS had been playing an educational and preventative role. CRS has helped communities navigate racial and national origin tensions that have resulted from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Such tensions have affected Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. CRS has maintained a close relationship with Sikh, South Asian and other civil rights organizations and has worked in communities throughout the country to help reduce post-9/11 related backlash directed at Sikh Americans and Muslims. CRS’ training films, “On Common Ground” and “The First Three to Five Seconds” serve as valuable tools for instructing law enforcement, airport personnel and others about the contributions of the Sikh and Muslim communities in America.
The agency is often the Justice Department’s first responders to community conflict. CRS’ conciliators help build trust and bridges where there is distrust between communities, law enforcement and government. The Community Relations Service is known as the U.S. Department of Justice’s “Peacemaker” and is neither a law enforcement agency nor a prosecutorial authority. CRS conciliation specialists build bridges by enhancing communication and building relationships.
The Community Relations Service is statutorily required to provide its’ services impartially and in confidence. The Agency’s staff is comprised of individuals with professional backgrounds in law enforcement, human rights, mediation, psychology, business and other disciplines. You can contact CRS by reaching out to our headquarters office in Washington, D.C. or any of our ten regional and four field offices.
At CRS, we are privileged to serve the American people. CRS strives to work together with local communities to come closer to realizing our “founding ideal, of a nation where all are free and equal.” On October 16, 2011 President Obama spoke on the dedication of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall and heeded Dr. King’s call on “us to stand in the other person’s shoes; to see through their eyes; to understand their pain.” Ultimately individuals and communities must be engaged in doing so and take ownership to resolve long-standing conflicts and CRS greatest success lies in helping them accomplish exactly that.
Grande Lum is the Director of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service