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Justice Dept. 'peacekeepers' worked 'Trayvon' rallies, group claims

By Joe Johns, CNN
July 11, 2013 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Justice Department unit worked rallies over Trayvon Martin shooting, Judicial Watch says
  • The Community Relations Service sent a "secret team" or "peacekeepers" to Florida, group says
  • CRS long associated with efforts to mediate and difuse tense situations in communities
  • Man accused of shooting Martin in 2012, George Zimmerman, on trial in Florida

Washington (CNN) -- A government agency long associated with efforts to mediate and diffuse tense situations in communities helped organize rallies over the killing of Florida teen Trayvon Martin last year, a conservative leaning legal advocacy group claims.

Judicial Watch circulated a press release and accompanying documents on Wednesday asserting that the Community Relations Service, a division of the Justice Department, sent a "secret team" of "peacekeepers" to Sanford, Florida, last March and April to work marches, demonstrations and rallies related to the explosive case that is now the subject of a murder trial.

Timeline of early events in Trayvon Martin case

The Justice Department did not respond to a request for comment. It instead pointed CNN to the 45-year record of CRS, which was created by a provision included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

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The CRS website describes itself as "the only federal agency dedicated to assist 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."

CRS conciliators are frequently seen at large marches and rallies, and have been present at countless protests, including those that occur every four years at the Democratic and Republican political conventions.

Conservative groups have complained that the conciliators are secretive and do not talk to the media.

Ex-Sanford police chief: Zimmerman probe 'taken away from us'

The service maintains that it does not choose sides and "uses impartial mediation practices and conflict resolution procedures to help local leaders resolve problems and restore stability."

Zimmerman, 29, is accused of second-degree murder in the February 26, 2012, death of Martin, 17.

Defense attorneys argue Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense after the Miami teenager charged him. Prosecutors argue he followed Martin through his neighborhood and shot him without provocation.

Martin supporters argued Zimmerman, who is Hispanic, took advantage of what they considered loose Florida gun laws to racially profile and shoot an unarmed African-American teenager without provocation.

The incident, inflamed by a lengthy delay before charges were filed against Zimmerman, provoked protests nationwide.

Opinion: What about Martin's right to 'stand his ground'?

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