As images of neo‐Nazis marching through our streets fill our screens, and reports of a growing number of hate crimes sweep the country, how can the Community Relations Service (CRS), a small component of the U.S. Department of Justice created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, help preserve democracy? What is at stake when the Trump Administration threatens to essentially eliminate CRS? This Essay describes the ways in
which CRS not only helps communities address tension associated with discrimination, reduce the potential for violence, and prevent and respond more effectively to hate crimes, but also how its services help strengthen democracy.
Part I explores how the brief, yet innovative provisions of Title X of the Civil Rights Act provided the foundation for an agency that could effectively engage with communities, earn trust, and support local leaders in developing local mechanisms for addressing longstanding issues. Part II provides a look at the scope of CRS’ work through case studies to demonstrate how CRS converts its statutory mandate into action. Part III
describes how the Trump Administration’s proposal to eliminate funding for CRS and to move its services to the Civil Rights Division would violate the terms and spirit of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The Essay concludes with a discussion of how the attack on CRS represents an attack on the democratic ideals embodied by an agency that derives its authority and power from the communities it serves. The elimination of CRS would deprive communities of an important resource to keep people safe and remove a key tool to help our country honestly confront our history so we can understand the ongoing impact of slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow on our country today.