Posts Tagged ‘mediators’

The Future of Policing

Author: Lee Jay Berman

police_brutalityYears ago, I mediated a case involving alleged police brutality. I’ve mediated several of them, but this one stood out from the rest. The plaintiff (the alleged victim) was African American and fairly muscular. The two officers, the defendants, along with the department, were Caucasian.

His story was that they took him to be a burglar, coming out of an apartment building late at night. They were sitting in their patrol car, when he came out the front door. When he turned to walk away from them toward his car, right away he heard their rapid footsteps coming down the sidewalk behind him. Anticipating what was coming, he dropped to his knees, and still facing away from them, he put his arms up, then laced his fingers behind his head, into what he called the international position of submission. He said he didn’t want to cause the officers any more alarm than he felt they were already feeling.

The rest of his story was that they took a billy club to his shoulders, back, and back of his head, cuffed his hands where they were behind his head, and dragged him backwards down the sidewalk by the handcuffs, and intentionally slammed his head against the patrol car when shoving him into the back seat.

The officers’ story, I’ll never know. They didn’t come to the mediation. Their commanding officer and someone from internal affairs or human resources was there, and perhaps a union representative (it’s been many years now). Their story was that the arrest was done by the book, and that the plaintiff was faking his injuries. They insisted that his injuries were consistent with self-inflicted wounds, though after his release, the hospital report was inconclusive.

At the mediation, we learned two significant facts. First, that there had been a history of racial strife in that neighborhood for a couple of years between the largely Caucasian police division, and the largely African American population. And second, that the plaintiff owned a healing clinic, and had devoted his life to helping people reduce stress and anxiety and find more inner peace through everything from meditation to counseling to somatic techniques like yoga, massage, and reiki.

When I asked him what he’d like to see happen that day at the mediation, he said that he felt very sorry for the officers. When I reminded him that he was the victim, he agreed, but said that he had been meditating on it, and couldn’t imagine the huge amount of fear, stress, and anxiety that these two officers must be under on a constant basis, in order for them to have treated him the way that they did.

Being a mediator, it’s not my job to determine who I think is telling the truth, or who is right or wrong. It’s my job to help them find the best possible mutually agreeable solution. My personal take on it is that in every case, I try my best to dig as deep as the participants will let me, in order to uncover their deepest interests or needs, and be as creative as I can to help them get those resolved, often in a way that money alone can’t.

In this case, he offered to accept enough money to pay his lawyer for having to file the case (because the department hadn’t been responsive when he tried to reach out to them directly), and then to offer to treat the two officers in his center. He wanted to prove to them, and to the department, that he and his team of professionals could so significantly reduce the stress level of these officers, that it would change their lives. Then, being an entrepreneur, he added that if he could do that, maybe the department would send more of the officers from that division, which could, in turn, reduce tensions in the entire neighborhood.

We could never get the department’s brass to sign off on the proposal, mostly saying that they couldn’t agree to anything that would single out the two officers and create the perception that they did anything wrong. I used all of my persuasiveness, and so did the plaintiff’s counsel, who was himself incredibly enlightened and collaborative. He explained that absent such a creative solution, the price to settle the case would multiply, given the risk that a jury might side with his client. But we could not overcome the department’s strong interest in defending and protecting their own. They saw that as their job, and it’s hard to argue with that.

In hindsight, I feel like we missed a turning point back then. Obviously, this week’s recent events bring this all to light again. But when I look at the rash of civilian killings by police, and the barbaric targeting of the Dallas police officers, I see an opening. I see tragic events that might create just enough public outcry and awareness, to allow people in important positions to see the overriding need for healing and decompression and creating a bridge of peace in our communities.

Fortunately, I am not alone. In Los Angeles, a group called the Institute for Nonviolence in Los Angeles, in concert with Mediators Beyond Borders and the Southern California Mediation Association, have been holding very successful meetings throughout the city called, Days of Dialogue – the Future of Policing in Los Angeles. Every city should have such a program. And those in Los Angeles, should pick one out and attend it.

We need to take back ownership of our country, and that begins one city at a time. And by ownership, I don’t mean government control, police power, or civil disobedience. I mean that We The People need to step in and help each other to have dialogue. Please think about what you can do for your part. I certainly know what my role is.

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December 20, 2012ACR Logo

The membership of the Association for Conflict Resolution mourns the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, along with all those shaken by it across the United States and around the world. We and many of our other colleagues stand ready to lend the full range of our professional expertise and devotion to processes that support healing, as well as those sustained efforts that will be required to facilitate dialogue, build consensus, and take action to address the deep rooted structural issues that contribute to this tragic pattern. Our membership includes thousands of dedicated and seasoned conflict resolution practitioners with a variety of specializations committed to the work that lies ahead.

Many ACR members, particularly those who are mediators, are also following a developing side story relevant to our field. News reports have disclosed some details of the mediated divorce of the perpetrator’s parents and provided comments alleged to have come from the couple’s mediator. ACR would like to make clear to the public that confidentiality is one of the basic principles of mediation, and that any mediator belonging to an organization, such as ACR, which has approved the Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, is bound by that standard of confidentiality (http://www.acrnet.org/Educator.aspx?id=971). In addition, ACR endorses both the ACR Ethical Principles and the Model Standards of Practice for Family and Divorce Mediators which state “A family mediator shall maintain the confidentiality of all information acquired in the mediation process, unless the mediator is permitted or required to reveal the information by law or agreement of the participants.”

Each year in the United States, there are thousands of divorcing couples who choose to work together in mediation to find an outcome that is mutually satisfactory. ACR is committed to seeing that they and all mediation clients can be assured that they are protected from breach of confidentiality except where permitted by law or agreement of the parties.

ACR leadership and members continue to offer whatever support and care we can to the community of Newtown, the surrounding area, and the affected families, for whom we grieve.

Association for Conflict Resolution
12100 Sunset Hills Road, Suite 130, Reston, VA 20190
www.acrnet.org

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Obama Supports 'Gound Zero Mosque'Candidate Obama was sharply criticized for not having a plan for the economy or for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He defended by saying that the President’s job is to listen to all positions before acting, and that he hadn’t had the chance to do that yet.  It was the single most threatening concern about his candidacy in the Democratic primaries, and in the Presidential election.

Unfortunately, Candidate Obama’s wide-eyed, idealistic optimism has given way to Politician Obama’s having to decide for the media whether he supports or opposes issues such as the plan to build a Muslim Mosque near Ground Zero.  See Obama backs ‘Ground Zero’ mosque.

The President’s job is not to decide whether he supports or opposes a project such as this.  His job is to lead by making certain that there is a healthy dialogue going on.  The pressure on President Obama from politicians and the media, who are all accustomed to dealing in a world of positions, has caused him to do the worst thing he can do as a leader:  take a position on the issues that Americans care about.  The astute politician, and the masterful leader, know how to advance the dialogue without taking a side, and understand that as soon as they take a side, they have alienated all of the people who believe strongly in the other side.

What is needed here is more than a Beer Summit, but it is not as far off as most people would think.

Recently, I brought together two Arizona legislators to hold a mediated dialogue on the immigration issue facing America.  We calmly discussed each group’s underlying interests, goals and values and found that they surprisingly agreed on most of the issues.

This kind of dialogue, however, only tends to occur when a professional facilitator is managing the discussion, when the stakeholders are all present or represented, and when the discussion turns away from positions (black or white, thumbs up or thumbs down) to each group hearing the other – not unlike the President did when he held the Beer Garden Photo Op.  In that discussion, and in that setting, it was a different discussion than the two men had ever had.  That was the same response that I had from the two legislators, who each told me that they had learned more and had a better discussion in the two hours on a stage with me than they had been able to have in sum to that point.

What this issue needs is a real dialogue, facilitated (mediated) by a professional who is expert at managing the emotions, the values and the discussion between representatives of the two groups.  Give me Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and some of his leaders, along with some of the most vocal opponents, preferably from families of those who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and I will guarantee you a dialogue where each walks away having heard the other and having had their eyes opened to things that they had not realized before this discussion.  Televise it, put it on the internet, and broadcast it over the radio, and we will educate hundreds of thousands with one discussion.

This is what we do – those of us who resolve conflict.  Mediators do it every day in legal battles, Ombudspeople do it in the workplace environment and conflict coaches do it with individuals who are in conflict.  My personal passion is to do it in situations such as this.

It is time for President Obama to begin delegating the facilitation of issues such as this to those of us who do it professionally, and return to running the county, focusing on the wars, the economy and jobs,  and the spill that endangers the Gulf Coast.

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