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Feds helped organize, manage pro-Trayvon Martin protests, documents show

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Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Police Blotter,Justice,Florida,Trayvon Martin

The Justice Department dispatched a little-known SWAT team dubbed "peacekeepers" to manage protests in Sanford, Florida, after neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman shot teen Trayvon Martin, according to newly-released documents.

According to the papers released by Judicial Watch, a public watchdog group, the Community Relations Service (CRS), was deployed "to help organize and manage rallies and protests against George Zimmerman." Judicial Watch charged that the goal was to "foment unrest" in the community and put pressure on officials to prosecute Zimmerman, now on trial, harshly.

In spending reports and emails received by the group under the Freedom of Information Act, CRS won praise for working with protesters and community leaders to limit damage and violence. Multiple protests occurred, including one that called for an "end to the New Jim Crow in the state of Florida and our nation."

According to the CRS webpage, its goal is to build harmony among angry groups. "The Community Relations Service is the department's 'peacemaker' for community conflicts and tensions arising from differences of race, color, and national origin. Created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, CRS is 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," said the website.

But Judicial Watch saw a different approach in the documents they received. "Though CRS purports to spot and quell racial tensions nationwide before they arise, the documents obtained by Judicial Watch show the group actively worked to foment unrest, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on travel and hotel rooms to train protesters throughout Florida," said Judicial Watch in a release to Secrets.

"The peacekeepers also met with officials of the Republican National Convention, scheduled for several months later in Tampa, to warn them to expect protests in connection with Martin's death," Judicial Watch added.

Justice had no immediate response.

Among the key findings, said Judicial Watch:

-- CRS employee spent $1,142.84 to travel to Sanford, Florida from March 25-28, 2012 "to work marches, demonstrations, and rallies."

-- CRS employee spent $751.60 to travel to Sanford, Florida from March 30-April 1, 2012 "to provide technical assistance to the City of Sanford, event organizers, and law enforcement agencies for the march and rally on March 31."

-- CRS employee spent $1,307.40 to travel to Sanford, Florida from April 3-12, 2012 "to provide technical assistance, conciliation, and onsite mediation during demonstrations planned in Sanford."

-- CRS employee spent $672.24 to travel to Tampa, Florida from April 18-20, 2012 "to meet with RNC official related to possible protests and demonstrations during the RNC."

None of the documents indicate that the group, which presumably is in Florida now readying for protests following the verdict of the Zimmerman trial, tried to kill any protest or worked with supporters of Zimmerman.

"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."

Paul Bedard, The Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.