Friday, November 05, 2004

DoJ CRS Stops Squeaky Wheels From Turning

I'm no fan at all of the Justice Department's Community Relations Service. In my experience, they swoop into town after some major civil rights violation -- in Houston it was the Pedro Oregon killing, in Austin it was the Cedar Avenue Valentines Day Police Riot. Then they suck all the community's anger and momentum for change into seemingly endless meetings where the police department gets veto power over every idea.

The end result is usually an agreement with zero teeth -- there's just no way for the community to enforce their rights. Typically, after months of excruciating process, the Justice Department informs the community it's a "facilitator" not an enforcer of the agreement.

Apparently the Justice Department's CRS has convinced folks in McKinney, TX to participate on one of these marathon sessions. According to the
McKinney Gazette: "Residents have complained of increased racial profiling since March as police seek information about an unsolved quadruple homicide. Police arrested and later released three men from the area who they believed were involved with the slayings."

So, the complaints that brought the group together related to racial profiling, police conduct in a particular investigation, and the treatment of several specific suspects who were later released. It's worth noting, though, how the DoJ CRS has diffused the issues. The group "explored more than a dozen issues affecting the community including the need to establish a crime watch program, improve eastside infrastructure and develop the local economy," the
Gazette reported. The issues about how police conducted the investigation that spawned the meetings no longer appear to be on the radar screen, to judge by this report.

"Carmelita Pope Freeman, regional director of the agency's Community Relations Service, has urged patience and trust in the lengthy process," as I mentioned, I've heard that before, "saying the federal government's involvement means change will follow." We shall see. Sadly, because I know a lot of local activists are working hard at these meetings, I predict the federal government's involvement means nothing will happen.

It's difficult to understand how well-intentioned folks, at this point, can wait around for
John Ashcroft to protect their civil rights. I've come to believe that the only way to protect our rights against police abuse in this conservative environment is to make demands of state and local officials, backed up with as much political clout as you can muster. Squeaky wheels get grease. Unfortunately, the DoJ Community Relations Service has figured out that you can also muffle squeaky wheels with hours, weeks and months of endless, pointless meetings.

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