CRS Supports Communities Experiencing COVID-19 Related Tensions and Conflicts
As “America’s Peacemaker,” CRS supports communities in all 50 states and U.S. territories working to prevent and respond to conflict and tension stemming from differences of race, color, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and disability. Although most of this work traditionally is conducted through in-person sessions, CRS is now providing virtual services during the pandemic. These services include facilitation of virtual dialogues, community meetings, and webinars that can provide information to community groups and other stakeholders about hate crimes reporting procedures and resources, and can support the development of action plans focused on bias incidents and hate crimes prevention and response.
CRS’s recent work in California illustrates the range of services conciliation specialists can provide to community groups experiencing COVID-19 related tensions and conflicts. In January 2020, community leaders contacted CRS regarding local concerns over documented cases of racial targeting and hate crimes against members of Asian communities at stores and public places in Oakland, San Francisco, and other Bay Area cities. At the time, conversations trending on social media platforms assigned fault to Asians for the spread of the deadly virus. API groups were fearful that the accusatory conversations occurring on social media would increase the likelihood of physical assaults and attacks against their property. In response to these escalating concerns, local law enforcement and the local District Attorney’s office engaged CRS to help address growing tensions in the communities.
CRS convened several meetings between API communities and city officials to discuss and identify protective actions that could increase security and ease fears. In late January, as a result of a CRS facilitated dialogue, API community groups and a diverse group of allies in several cities implemented hotlines for reporting bias incidents. Additionally, one county developed a public service announcement in several languages, including Cantonese, Mandarin, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean. The PSA reinforced the county’s stance against hate crimes and on educating the API community on how to report them. Other localities followed with their own awareness programs. Asian business owners in San Francisco activated a community network to patrol and monitor their closed stores and restaurants to minimize the potential for targeted vandalism or looting. CRS facilitated communications between local law enforcement and community patrol units to coordinate efforts, de-escalate tensions, and decrease the potential for violence.
After the World Health Organization characterized the coronavirus as a pandemic, misinformation about the disease stoked fears that unsettled several other communities in California. In early March, African American community members in Oakland contacted CRS with concerns of targeting and discriminatory treatment because of the selection of East Bay as a designated port for a cruise ship carrying coronavirus-infected passengers. In addition, rumors ignited fears that virus testing and stimulus relief aid were not going to be made available within the African American neighborhoods in the East Bay. To address these tensions, African American community leaders, advocacy groups, and faith-based leaders contacted CRS to help calm fears by mitigating the spread of misinformation. CRS was able to quickly address their concerns by connecting community leaders with local officials and resources. These connections significantly deflated the rumors, and access to current and factual information effectively disseminated throughout the community.
In another incident, tensions grew in a Native American community in Santa Rosa, California, due to speculation that coronavirus-related services would not be made available to tribal community health providers. Furthermore, despite calls for social distancing and limiting gatherings, religious ceremonies continued as scheduled. Local Native American community leaders engaged CRS to provide consultation services and help community members connect with county health services. The county health care providers talked to the community leaders and tribal members to educate them on the ongoing situation. While the focus was on immediate safety and quelling fears, health officials were also able to address needs that otherwise may have been ignored or denied.
As the pandemic persists, CRS is ready to virtually serve communities in need across the country. If your community needs assistance, please contact the office nearest you by sending an email to askCRS@usdoj.gov.
In addition, the Department of Justice is enforcing Federal laws that protect those whose civil rights are being threatened during the coronavirus pandemic, including individuals targeted for their disability, religion, race, or other protected trait. For more information, visit: https://www.justice.gov/opa/blog/washington-examiner-op-ed-how-justice-department-standing-civil-rights-amid-coronavirus. And for more information about the coronavirus, please visit https://www.coronavirus.gov.