Scores of cellphone videos, capturing police violence around the country, have revealed to millions the depth and breadth of systemic racial bias in the United States. Understandably, many are calling for a new way.
The demand is for a fresh look at how we address issues of safety and even wellness in our communities.
Right now, most of the attention is on the police. What we demand from the police is a complex mixture of protecting lives, property, and rights – such as the right to peaceful protest. All of these are essential, and each duty requires vastly different skills and tactics. To meet these needs, the time has arrived to re-imagine what we expect law enforcement to do, and what community members and agencies can do.
We already have glimpses of how this can be done.
In addition to videos of violence, in these past weeks we have seen other videos — of police choosing to be with, rather than against, their communities. With, rather than against, people of color.
These stories of unity are not unique to this moment.
For years, community mediation centers across the country have brought police and communities together to build relationships and repair harm. In 2016, with support of the JAMS Foundation, the National Association for Community Mediation developed a guide to help police and communities build healthy relationships to work together.
What they found was what we are hearing from today’s protesters — the need to feel truly heard and seen by the police in particular and institutions generally.
What they found was the fear that we have been seeing from the videos.
What they found is that this can be overcome by helping everyone involved to talk to each other, truly see each other, and in moments of crisis. Through restorative justice services and other related practices people explored the issues, appreciated from all angles what has happened in the past, and mutually created new ways of being together.
The struggle is not over domination and revenge, but respect for the humanity each of us holds. And this requires real change, personality and institutionally.
Community mediation centers have been working towards such civil rights and racial justice outcomes embedded in the 1964 Civil Rights Act, since that time, through a country-wide network of 300 centers. This community mediation centers through the work of trained volunteers who represent the diversity of their communities is an invaluable asset.
Because of these approaches, community mediation centers are best prepared to help their communities address systemic injustices rather than perpetuate them. From immigrant rights in New Bedford, MA, to the Foster Care System in Los Angeles, community mediation centers have worked with law enforcement, the judiciary, and city and state governments to change how people are seen and heard. Many are focused right now to prevent a COVID-19 -related epidemic of evictions, which would disproportionately affect people of color. The JAM Foundation is support targeted strategies to prevent homelessness in Chicago and Murphysboro Illinois, the District of Columbia and San Bernardino, CA.
In Baltimore, Dayton, New Orleans, and Warrenton, VA, community mediation centers have been at the forefront, of helping to create the actual change desired by the residents of those communities and those who serve their police institutions. The power of community mediation was recognized in the Ferguson Consent Decree requiring law enforcement to work with their local community mediation center. Now is the time to recognize the important role community mediation centers play in being the change our country needs.
While community mediation centers relieve the work of the police and courts and save time and dollars, helping in the short term, what they really do is help the community identify their issues and resolve their conflicts, in a sustainable, transparent, collaborative manner where those involved create choices of and by the community.
As we consider how to scale back unjust police action, we need to build up just community power and the community mediation center is there to serve and help and are part of the fabric of their communities. Through the use of community mediation centers grounded in humanity, healing, and hope people can be brace, resolve their issues together and reconnect with each other. Help us help those local efforts by supporting our national voice that community mediation is community mobilization.
To find out more please contact:
D.G. Mawn, President, National Association for Community Mediation or Cassie Lively, Board Chair, National Association for Community Mediation at [email protected] or to find out more about the authors: NAFCM
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