Mediator works with churches in Sanford during trial

An Episcopal Church is one of a large group of pastors and churches in Sanford, Florida, working with the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS) to monitor the Trayvon Martin investigation and the trial of George Zimmerman.

Miami Herald:

…in the weeks after the Feb. 26, 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, a city representative picked up the phone and called Thomas Battles, a quiet force who has worked almost three decades mending racially damaged communities.

The federal mediator works for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service (CRS), a stealth federal operation that works to defuse community anger hardening along the fault lines of race, color and national origin.

The mediators are called the peacemakers.

Battles reached out to the churches to coordinate work with the community.

Blacks, who had long felt mistreated by the Sanford Police Department, saw in Trayvon another case of mistreatment by law enforcement, and his death quickly became to symbolize racial injustice.

“The mood here was very volatile. The feelings here were deeply rooted,’’ said Lowman Oliver, a pastor and community activist. “There was a lot of anger and there were even more questions.’’

It was at this point that city leaders turned to Battles.

“The situation was escalating. We needed somebody from the outside that could command respect, pull the community together and generate dialogue,’’ said Andrew Thomas, the senior project manager for the city of Sanford who made the initial contact. “He and his team were very effective.’’

Among his first tasks: Battles rallied about 70 or 80 Sanford-area ministers — of varying races and faiths — and talked to the group about the role they should play in bringing peace back to the city.

“The idea was to bring different kinds of people into the same room and get them to talk,’’ said Rev. Charles Holt, of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in neighboring Lake Mary. “He was able to get the largest group of pastors together, partly because his group carried weight, representing the perspective of the Justice Department.’’

From those meetings, the Sanford Pastors Connecting was formed. With Battle’s help, members of that group now have four designated seats at the trial for pastors to attend and bring back reports to their congregations and neighborhoods. Often, Battles is seen there too.

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