Documents published online Wednesday by a conservative watchdog group show that the Community Relations Service, an arm of the U.S. Justice Department, spent taxpayer dollars to help organize and implement plans for the initial string of rallies in Sanford, Florida following the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.
Rev. Al Sharpton (C) spoke at a ‘Justice for Trayvon’ rally along with Tracy Martin (R) and Sybrina Fulton (2nd L), parents of slain teenager Trayvon Martin, on March 22, 2012. It appears the U.S. Justice Department provided support for similar rallies
The protests were openly hostile to George Zimmerman, the volunteer neighborhood watch organizer who killed Martin, 17, after a struggle. Zimmerman is currently on trial in a Florida courtroom, charged with second-degree murder.
The DOJ’s Community Relations Service first entered the Trayvon Martin controversy March 25-27, 2012 when, according to the documents, its personnel were ‘deployed to Sanford, FL, to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies related to the shooting and death of an African-American teen by a neighborhood watch captain.’
Days later, from March 30 through April 1, the agency reported that it ‘provide[d] support for protest deployment in Florida.’
Judicial Watch obtained the Justice Department documents in April 2012 and March 2013 through a Freedom of Information Act request, but released them Wednesday. A Judicial Watch official told MailOnline that a shortage of personnel to analyze thousands of pages of documents obtained under FOIA – not a desire for trial-related publicity – was responsible for the delay.
The DOJ describes its Community Relations Service as ‘the Department’s “peacemaker” for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin.’
George Zimmerman, shown in an evidence photo with injuries he sustained during the confrontation that ended Trayvon Martin’s life, is charged with second-degree murder
Thousands of posters were printed demanding Zimmerman’s arrest for killing Martin. These signs were funded by the Service Employees International Union local 1199, a health care workers union
Its mandate includes ‘assist[ing] 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.’
Some of the Trayvon Martin protests, however, stoked racial animosity, with Black Panther Party members and the Rev. Al Sharpton suggesting that Zimmerman, a Latino man, was an example of white-on-black violence.
‘These documents detail the extraordinary intervention by the Justice Department in the pressure campaign leading to the prosecution of George Zimmerman,’ said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.
‘My guess is that most Americans would rightly object to taxpayers paying government employees to help organize racially-charged demonstrations.’
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Judicial Watch’s document indicate that the DOJ spent at least $5,320 in hard costs to support the rallies, an amount that does not include the salaries of personnel tasked to intervene.
Trayvon Martin supporters marched before a town hall meeting about the shooting on March 26, 2012. Rev. Al Sharpton, Rev. Jesse Jackson and NAACP president Benjamin Jealous all spoke at the event
The agency’s Florida activities did include providing ‘technical assistance’ to law enforcement and city managers in Sanford. But its apparent work to assist demonstrators indicates that it functioned less as a government entity and more as a partner to the protest organizers.
Judicial Watch also obtained an audio recording of an April 19, 2012 community meeting held at the Second Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church.
‘The meeting, which opens with a gospel hymn and organ music, is reported to have led to the official ouster of Sanford’s Police Chief Bill Lee,’ the group said in a press release.
‘A week earlier, a group calling themselves the “Dream Defenders” had barricaded the entrance to the police department demanding he be fired for failing to file murder charges against Zimmerman. The church meeting produced a nine-point plan, the main demand being the firing of Chief Lee.’
The Orlando Sentinel reported earlier in the same week that the DOJ’s Community Relations Service ‘helped set up a meeting between the local NAACP and elected officials that led to the temporary resignation of police Chief Bill Lee.’
‘They were there for us,’ Allen Chapel AME Church pastor Rev. Valarie Houston said at the time.
The Sentinel also reported that Community Relations Service employees arranged a 40-mile police escort for students calling for the police chief’s ouster who were traveling from Daytona Beach to Sanford.
Many of the protests after Martin’s shooting were racially charged events, and some reportedly included the participation of New Black Panther Party members