You know your city has become fully multicultural and diversified when the Department of Justice has to send in its team of mediators to settle ethnic disputes and address discrimination complaints. It is certainly one of the joys of having established your city as one that “welcomes the stranger.”
We’ve been telling you about problems (murders, riots, etc.) in Portland, ME for some time (just use our search function and you’ll see what I mean). This week we learned, thanks to reader Susan, that the Justice Department’s community relations division has set up shop in Portland.
From the Portland Press Herald:
The Department of Justice is again working with the Portland Police Department, but this time it’s the community relations division trying to help improve ties between police and the Sudanese community.
A mediator with the federal agency has made contact with members of the Sudanese Community Association and with police officials. The goal is to create an environment where both sides are able to discuss the conflict with the goal of resolving tensions.
“Our basic work is to come into a community to bring conciliation and restoration of peace, where there have been issues based on race, color or national origin,” said George Henderson, legal counsel for the agency’s Community Relations Service.
He said department rules prevent him from confirming the department’s presence in Portland or any specifics about who contacted the department and what issues it has identified.
However, representatives from the Sudanese community and police confirmed the agency’s involvement.
The last time the Department of Justice sent someone to work with the Portland Police Department it was far less amicable.
In 2002, the agency’s civil rights division was assigned to Portland to investigate whether the police force had a pattern or practice of violating civil rights. The agency was asked to investigate in hopes of restoring trust in the police following a series of high-profile excessive force cases.
The exhaustive investigation spanned two years and concluded that there was no institutional pattern or practice of civil rights violations. It did, however, propose a number of improvements and “best practices” that the department adopted.
The community relations division of the Department of Justice — formed in 1964 as part of the Civil Rights Act — has no investigative or prosecutorial powers. It is called upon to heal rifts within communities, but works behind the scenes to recommend practices and bring community leaders together, Henderson said.
There is more. Read on.
Here is what the Justice Department’s community relations division does, and it seems that anyone can call them in.
The Community Relations Service is the Department’s “peacemaker” for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS is the only Federal agency dedicated to assist State and local units of government, private and public organizations, and community groups with preventing and resolving racial and ethnic tensions, incidents, and civil disorders, and in restoring racial stability and harmony. CRS facilitates the development of viable, mutual understandings and agreements as alternatives to coercion, violence, or litigation. It also assists communities in developing local mechanisms, conducting training, and other proactive measures to prevent or reduce racial/ethnic tension. CRS does not take sides among disputing parties and, in promoting the principles and ideals of non-discrimination, applies skills that allow parties to come to their own agreement. In performing this mission, CRS deploys highly skilled professional conciliators, who are able to assist people of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.
I could give them a few suggestions of cities that need their services.
Endnote: I was just trying to figure out if there was one Sudanese community group in Portland and came across this handy Maine government site for Multicultural Affairs. Some of our Maine readers should look into each of these groups and see who funds them, etc. Also, if they are 501(c)3s, you might want to see how much involvement they have in electoral politics or lobbying for legislation—they shouldn’t have much of a role if they are legit non-profits.
Also, you know your city is experiencing the strengthening power of diversity when you have an organization called the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence established in your city. Note that this Portland group reaped a federal grant ($184,719) from the Ethnic Community Based Organizations funding initiative of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, here.