Matt reflects on the subject of biases related to the ADR world. Using himself as an example, he calls attention to the field’s need to self-monitor. Read Matt’s latest article and see how closely your experiences align.Read More
Since hearing the decision from the Ferguson Grand Jury last night, I have been on an emotional roller coaster ride. I cannot deny my personal outrage that absolutely no charges are being brought against Officer Wilson and I want some form of “justice” which the law is not providing.
I then watched President Obama’s address to America on a split screen, national broadcast, against a loop of a crowd attempting to overturn a police vehicle. Soon after his address, the cameras moved out to bring us shots of throngs of angry protesters moving through the streets of Ferguson. Soon there were images of burning buildings, looting at the store from which Michael Brown was alleged to have taken a fist full of Cigarillos, and lots of on-the-ground reporters offering commentary mixed with the occasional live comment from a protester. These scenes appeared to escalate in number as the night wore on and when there were no new scenes, the news outlets were content to show us the old footage….again…and again….and again. All in the name of unbiased journalism and bringing America “the truth”.
If history is any indicator, that footage of looters will be used to prosecute specific individuals for their “crimes” and the Justice System will have done its grim duty of upholding the law. Public opinion about the misplaced anger of people who don’t think the law applies to them will already be formed. Folks sitting in the comfort of their homes will be saying “They brought this on themselves. You don’t correct a so-called wrong by committing another wrong! All they want is an excuse to loot and burn!” “Don’t they think the law applies to them?”
Somewhere in my Buddhist teachings I came across the phrase: “Stay with the conflict until it becomes paradox.” I cannot remember the author but the concept has stayed with me. Simply stated it means, when confronted with two opposing feelings and emotions inside oneself, it is better to lean into these feelings until you can understand how two opposing forces can be in the same place at the same time. Once you have that understanding, you have a chance to ferret out a solution. This opposition also fits the definition of conflict taught to me by a mentor.
My personal inner conflict is composed of my rage from seeing years of social injustice heaped upon my people, knowing that such demonstrations of rage have previously prompted response and conciliation by the power structure; (think Freedom Summer, Watts and Detroit riots) and my beliefs as a Buddhist and training as a mediator. Constantly looking for the path to peace.
It was during an exchange with a fraternity brother of mine, who works for Al Jazeera, that my conflict became paradox. He rightfully extolled the virtues of the reporting done by his colleagues at Al Jazeera and I poked back at the misguided outcomes of his other colleagues in the Fourth Estate. I saw what they wished for me to see and that, in turn fueled my outrage. I felt my anger rise along with the people in the street. Yet I was torn, knowing of the path of destruction that was unfolding would only lead to more people harmed, more property destroyed and another community in ruin.
But where were the images of the replay of Michael Brown’s father calling for peaceful demonstrations? Where were the images of the local citizens in the Disciples of Justice volunteer group who were walking the streets asking people to remain calm? Where were the images of the people gathering at houses of worship to pray for peace? Neither these unseen activities nor the images that made it to the air were the whole picture. But together, they could have shown us what people are really feeling and how they are really responding. Perhaps closer to some form of truth.
Where were the images of local and federal agencies preparing the local constabulary to respond with a minimum of force? Surely this happened or we would have had far more police inflicted injuries than came forth. And where was this training and restraint BEFORE Michael Brown was shot?
The paradox is the preparation by both sides to keep the conflict to a minimum, while the images and sounds of the overt conflict dominated our visual and auditory input. Yet none of the preparation and striving for peace was done in tandem. Just as no raw diamond is considered beautiful until there is polish and balance to the facets we see, so too, no story is balanced until we get a balanced view of all facets of it. We cannot rely on the press; we cannot rely on television. W must seek this out for ourselves and not settle for being guided up the ladder of inference which allows us to filter out that which does not fit the model we already have. We must lean into our conflict until the paradox guides us to the solutions that bring us to unity and peace.
This ain’t a solution. This is just one old Black man, trying to figure it all out.
As a proud Black man I watch the events of the moment unfold in Ferguson, Missouri with great personal interest. We await the decision of a Federal Grand Jury about whether or not to bring charges against Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown back on August 9th of this year.
I am painfully aware of the long history of the gap—both real and perceived—between the spirit of the civil laws promulgated to guide our actions as citizens on the one hand, and the practice of the application and enforcement of those laws when members of the Black community are involved on the other.
As an African-American, I cannot help but think of all the lynchings perpetrated from the 1800’s right through the 1960’s; from the murder of Emmett Till in 1955, to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and right through to Michael Brown. These laws failed to protect people entitled to “equal protection under the law”. Now we know that, statistically, a young Black man is twenty-one times more likely to be shot by police than a young White man.
A host of feelings and fears arise in an entire community as we await that Grand Jury decision. We find both sides of the community fearing the reaction and backlash, regardless of the decision. Local police have been put on high alert. The Governor of Missouri has activated the National Guard.
The father of Michael Brown has made frequent pleas for peace while local civilians have formed a guardian watch group called the Disciples of Justice who will walk the streets calling for peace and alert to the responses of law enforcement to any community demonstration.
It would appear that both sides of the community are trying very hard to avoid the anticipated violence, but are preparing for its inevitability.
Not lost on me is the irony of the moment, where I cannot deny my personal feelings about the application of justice in this society and the invitation I have received to affiliate with a group of professional neutrals in a mediation practice. I am forced to deal with the question of how does a professional neutral look past the root cause of the conflict and all the social history?
How do you help all parties find a way to carve out a peaceful co-existence and preserve their dignity and their very lives while avoiding the negative impact of the anticipated violence, including loss of life and property?
That each side is preparing and fearful of the violence is admirable. So too is their careful preparation. Yet one cannot help but think that if they could collaborate on a solution, instead of prepare separately, our society and their representative sides might benefit from the effort. History has shown that the unilateral pursuit of peace does not create a lasting solution. Victors impose laws and losers must obey them; while collaborators get to build a mutually agreeable future where all parties win.
I cannot hide my feelings and emotions but I can let my training and hope for the future of my community and this society guide me to work for mutually agreed upon solutions that preserve us all while we figure out how to overcome the gaps in application of our societal laws.