Judicial Watch, a conservative legal foundation, has used the Freedom of Information Act to uncover documents that show Eric Holder’s Justice Department used a “community relations” unit to support and stage-manage public protests in Florida against George Zimmerman after his controversial February 2012 shooting of Trayvon Martin.
Justice’s Community Relations Service (CRS) even helped organize a meeting between Sanford, Fla., public officials and the local NAACP. The result was the resignation of police chief Bill Lee over his handling of the Martin case. While his resignation was rescinded after a few weeks by local officials, Chief Lee faced further pressure to leave his job and ultimately quit for good two months later. Valerie Houston, one of the pastors leading the protests against Zimmerman and Lee, praised the Community Relations Service as being “there for us.”
The website for the CRS claims it “does not take sides among disputing parties” and only provides “impartial conciliation and mediation services.” But the evidence of its activities in Sanford shows that it placed a large thumb on the scales of justice in the Zimmerman case. What can providing support for a “March for Trayvon Martin” rally headlined by the rabble-rousing Reverend Al Sharpton have to do with “conciliation and mediation”?
From top to bottom, the handling of the Zimmerman case was marinated in racial political correctness. Lee, the former Sanford police chief, told CNN this week that he faced severe pressure from outside forces to conduct his investigation in an unprofessional way so as to placate the public. “It was [relayed] to me that they just wanted an arrest. They didn’t care if it got dismissed later,” he said. “You don’t do that.” Lee told CNN that arresting Zimmerman based on the evidence he had collected would have violated Zimmerman’s Fourth Amendment rights. But he said political influence “forced a change in the course of the normal criminal-justice process. . . . That investigation was taken away from us. We weren’t able to complete it.”
It looks as if the trial of George Zimmerman on second-degree-murder charges will go to the jury today, but regardless of the verdict, the Justice Department has some questions to answer about its role in the pressure campaign leading up to his indictment. “My guess is that most Americans would rightly object to taxpayers paying government employees to help organize racially charged demonstrations,” says Tom Fitton, the president of Judicial Watch, in a statement on the group’s website.
Sadly, I am not surprised that Eric Holder’s Justice Department engaged in suspect activity in the Trayvon Martin case. Barack Obama frequently touted his experience as a “community organizer” during his 2008 campaign. The media gave him almost a complete pass on the more controversial parts of his record, especially his role as a top trainer and lawyer for the infamous Saul Alinsky–inspired group ACORN, which by 2008 had had many of its employees convicted of voter fraud. After Obama’s election, the Justice Department dropped any pending investigations of ACORN. Congress finally revoked the group’s federal funding in 2010 after filmmaker James O’Keefe’s hidden cameras caught its employees giving advice on how to conceal money gained from a fictional teenage prostitution ring. It soon declared bankruptcy, and some of its affiliates continued operations under new mismanagement.
I wondered back in 2008 how the federal government’s focus would change with a left-wing “community organizer” installed as president. We now have a partial answer. It appears that some of the tactics and approaches ACORN used have been moved into the Justice Department and other federal agencies. In the old days, when individual appropriations bills for federal agencies were still passed by Congress, it was possible to defund groups like ACORN. But now, with congressional gridlock ensuring that federal agencies are financed by dubious annual spending resolutions that simply continue existing program funding, any effective oversight by Congress is a dead letter. The question now isn’t really how many other left-wing “community organizing” projects like the one at Justice are being subsidized by the Obama administration. The real issue is whether the entire Obama administration has basically become an enabler and cheerleader for every Saul Alinsky tactic its radical appointees want to embrace — from the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s bullying local officials over public-housing construction demands to the Environmental Protection Agency’s colluding with environmentalist groups to lose lawsuits the groups file against the EPA in court.
— John Fund is national-affairs columnist for NRO.