How did you prove your credibility?


Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Well what I did was, I said, "If there is this level of distrust, I'll see you either now or I will see you later. Because regardless of what you do, whether you go to court and win or lose, the problem you have at your school site and the relationship you have with the African-American community is not going to be resolved by the courts, so if you feel that the parties cannot be trusted, we can very well wait until that lawsuit it over. But you know, you're not going to solve the problem until you sit down and get some agreement, as to what and how you properly carry out your policies and processes with all students. Until that's worked out, you're going to have to sit down at the table at some point, sooner or later. It's your call. I can't tell you that you have to sit down now."I thoroughly believe that they can wait out the legal process, but the law does not put the community back together. The law does not give the parties a process to really put to rest the anxiety and issues that divide them. So I figure, I will be there sooner or later. Meanwhile, in this particular case, I'm concerned about the potential violence that could continue to germinate. While the adults go to court and try to fight it out in dollars, the students are still potentially very much at risk in continuing the violence. So I move out of the mediation and move into a conciliation mode, and I look at what I can offer to try and lay to rest some of the other conflicts that are taking place within that school environment. I told the superintendent, I wanted to go to the school and meet with the principal, and observe that school. I want to make sure that the school is a safe environment for the African-American students and the other youth, because I don't know what's going on. The superintendent was very political and reluctant, but said, "You contact the principal and let him make that decision." I contacted the principal, and I was amazed that the principal is wide open. "Come on down, I'm trying to do this and that." I'll go over what we are trying to do. What he talked about was that he tried to form a multicultural club to work with both groups of students, to kind of figure out what the school could do to get the students to relate better. I said, "That sounds like a great idea, but too often, when you have a voluntary club, you only get the goody-two-shoes. The hardcore kids that are really the cause of the problem, you can't get them into those kinds of voluntary situations. You have to figure ways out to pull the really critical leadership that are involved in the conflict to the table." I said, "Let me share a couple of strategies that we've used and I'll send you some material and see whether that's helpful. So that's always for me a very positive thing, when I can go to my experience and pull out a couple of real visual, clear tools that I can send to an institution, and say, "Look, we've tried this and this works at these locations." I sent it to him and I think it changed the demeanor of our relationship and I said, "I'd like to come out and meet with you".

Question:
Had you met with him at this point?

Answer:
No, this is all over the phone. Now he feels that I'm an asset. Not only have I been there, but I have some tools to offer. So then he's more than willing to meet with me, and to let me come to the school and review it.






Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
So your experience in corrections and law enforcement gave you a certain credibility?




Martin Walsh


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I think, especially with the authorities, we don't go in with one strategy and one canned plan that can work. Looking at the issues, the CRS person has more information from the community that usually wants to get access, get these problems resolved and they have all these issues with the authorities. What you're really doing is processing information. You're starting to get that response back on how far the authorities are willing to go and what they're willing to do. CRS is able to cite how we were able, in similar situations, to provide various types of services. "We had this case we mediated where they had a similar type of conflict, people sat down, they came up with this." Or, "In the next city we trained the police officers, we had a community forum, we had the police and the community working together on it, or the police changed their protocols on use of force. They got to an accreditation process so they started building community trust." In each one of those cited experiences, we're describing CRS' efforts and the type of services we provided in that type of conflict.



Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Was there anything specific that you did to build your credibility with the parties?

Answer:
I always insist on meeting the parties face-to-face. When I make my initial contacts, I try to minimize the amount of talking I do on the phone, and I try to explain what CRS is, what our intentions are, and that I am a mediator and will attempt to resolve whatever conflicts are out there. "Could I see you or meet with you at any point?" I ask that right away, because I think they can't begin to build trust until they see you, they get a sense of what you're about, and I've always found that to be surprisingly easy for me, I don't know why. Sitting down with people, and sometimes being very factual and explaining what we're trying to accomplish as a service to them and of course at no cost to them. I think it is always a kind of, "Why not take the risk?" I think it is a marketing process, but it really takes a face-to-face marketing opportunity, and it's a service that will hopefully accomplish their objectives.

Question:
Does it always work?

Answer:
Not always, but most of the time it works. I always try to draw the biggest picture I can when I'm talking to people about a complaint or when they are grieving an issue, because I want the parties to have a lot of options, and I think it's always good to help them to look at what options they have, and to see mediation as one of those options. They have control of the time and their participation -- all of those factors that mediation typically allows a party to control. When they see mediation juxtaposed to the other options, often times they choose to try mediation.




Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

When I work with Asians, they probably distrust me the most. I remember one case when I was dealing with African Americans and Koreans. I met with a former African American Vietnam Veteran, and he looked at me like, "What are you doing here." So I explained that I was with CRS and I'm a federal mediator, and I've read about the dispute you have here, and understand there are several complaints with regards to this Korean swap meet. Really, my role is to try and bring you and the owner of the swap meet together and see if we can come to some resolution other than violence. Then I started talking about where I grew up, what things I had experienced when I was young, and I said, If you have any discomfort with me as an Asian American, that's no problem, we can always get you another mediator. He says, "No, you're okay with me." And I remember at the table, one of the things I did on that particular case, knowing that both Koreans and African Americans value religion and have very strong Christian ethic in both communities. I naturally picked a neutral church in the community to be the place for our mediation. It really took the thunder out of a great deal of the animosity.





Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I had worked with the Ohlone on a number of other cases with other cities. So I was very familiar with many of the parties.





Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

In the meantime, the assistant director was investigating me, and he found out what I had done with the Youth Authority. So he called me, and he put me on the spot and said, "This is what I have found out about you. What do you have to say about it?" I told him what I had to say about it. So he went to the director and the director said, "Fine, if the warden has taken the chance to deal with him, I want to take a chance to deal with him. And I like the guy, and when he was talking to us here about the things that might be done, it sounded pretty good. Besides, we have nowhere else to go."



Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I had introduced myself, and I was talking to them about what it was that might be done, and the inmates took me on fiercely. One guy, a Hispanic who I had known in East L.A. (he had been one of my partners in a gang I was in when I was a teenager), stood up for me. He said, "Hold on you all." So they said okay. They still questioned the heck out of me, but they didn't bring in their hostility. All because one of the guys had said, "This guy's alright." So we went on from there.



Julian Klugman


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
Well, that's where your self confidence comes in. Even though that was my first mediation, I knew what I was doing, I had faith in myself, I had faith in the process. I was willing to take responsibility for my actions. I was willing to laugh at myself. I don't take myself so seriously, that's important. That's how you get in the door when you're knocking on a strange door. You could put me in South Central L.A. and I will knock on a door and start precinct work. You say how are you going to do it? You say I'm your neighbor, I live down the block, I'm a volunteer representing a candidate, and then you laugh. You know what that laugh says? Isn't this ridiculous?

Question:
Ok, so what do you do with this Indian woman, you're not her neighbor, you're not doing precinct work, you knock on the door and say hi, I'm from the Justice Department?

Answer:
No. Remember the mediation? I was the mediator, I didn't have to sell mediation. I had to sell myself, I had to let them know I knew what I was doing. I don't say, "trust me." We started talking, we do it. Let's get the issues down. I ask questions and I make suggestions and we're operating and it's working. Someone tries to break in, but I don't let them. Someone else doesn't talk, and I encourage them and bring them out. I'm listening to people. You have to be a really good listener. I'm focused. I submerge my own ego, and I'm focused on them, and I'm doing my job. I know what I'm doing, and we're going to be successful. And what about the sheriff? Well I'm not going to let him do his stuff.




Dick Salem


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Changing gears completely again, we’ve talked on and off about giving technical assistance to parties. You’ve talked quite a bit about what you would do with the minority parties, but did you bring technical assistance for the majority parties, the authority figures?

Answer:
There was less of a need, but yes, we would put them in touch with counterparts and other communities who had experienced the same things. Sometimes you would do that for your own credibility, but sometimes they would have useful advice for their colleagues. Sometimes you would provide a police chief with firearms policies from other cities, sometimes you would bring a consultant to a police department from another city’s police department. That was very popular. I mentioned that I did that at the Minnesota reformatory. I brought in a corrections commissioner from another state. Sometimes we provide training for either party. You’d work with police or you’d help people put training programs together that would bring the minority community into the training process with police.







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