How did you identify underlying issues?
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Is there anything else that you try to do in the initial meeting besides finding out what their
view of the issue is?
To some extent, I am already trying to lay the ground work for potential mediation. Now of
course, the majority of the cases do not end up going to mediation! But let me give you an
example. This could be any community. I go into the minority community and let's say that they
are concerned about a racist school superintendent. So I will go in and say, "What's the
They say, "We've got a racist superintendent."
"What do you want to do?" I'll ask.
"We want to get rid of him." That is their number one demand, get rid of the superintendent.
So I go on. "Okay. So if you get rid of the superintendent, then what?"
"Well," they say, "we will get a superintendent who isn't racist."
"Fine," I reply, "but who hired the superintendent?"
"The school board."
"Okay. Who is going to hire the next superintendent?"
"The school board."
Now we're getting deeper into the issue. "Well, how can you be sure that you are not going to get
"We'll tell them that we don't want a racist."
"But how do you know that he is not a racist?" I'll ask. "What are the kinds of things that this
superintendent is doing that let you know that he or she is racist? What are you going to tell the
board that will convince them so that they will not hire another racist?"
"Okay," they'll say, changing their approach a bit, "we'll say we need somebody who hires more
Okay. Now we've gotten somewhere. So then I start writing on my flip chart if there is one.
"Okay, so part of the problem is the hiring policies here," I'll say. "What else?"
"Well, look at the discipline here. They are expelling and suspending far more minority kids than
"Okay, so the discipline problem is an issue." I continue writing on the chart.
By having that kind of discussion I am now helping the community to focus not on the
individual, but on the existing policies that need to be changed. Because the reality is that even if
they get a different superintendent, if he or she does the exact same thing as the one they have
now, they haven't gotten anywhere. On the other hand, if the current superintendent can be
persuaded to do things differently, the problems could be resolved. Now, of course, I'm not at
that point yet with the group. But if the superintendent would change some behaviors if he
would do certain things differently then he wouldn't be seen as a racist that needs to be
replaced. Yet initially, the only option that the community sees is, "Get rid of the racist bastard
and get somebody better."
So when you start taking about what somebody better would look like and what the differences
would be, we now begin to get some issues that I can then take to the superintendent. I can't just
go and say, "They think you're a racist," because, obviously, the superintendent is not going to
agree that he is a racist in most cases. But often, after some conversation, the superintendent does
agree that his job would be easier if he had a better relationship with the community. And even
though this is just a small, minute trouble-making part of the community it always is [in the
superintendent's view] he begins to realize that his job would be easier if his relationship with
them was better. So if I can show him that I can maybe improve relations with that community,
and he is willing to talk about some of the hiring policies and the disciplining procedures, then I
have something I can work with. If we can talk about those issues, rather than whether or not he
is a racist even though I haven't talked about mediation a whole lot yet I have begun to lay
the groundwork for identifying what some of the actual interests are. This shows that the
frustration isn't so much the one person as it is with what's happening to the children of that
community. And by helping them to define that, I am also helping them to address it.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
You had a school
system that was different: a black system and white system. You had blacks
that were not employed in any of the banks and a lot of industries there. blacks were in low-
paying, menial jobs. Then there were comments that were appearing in national magazines
attacking black women's character. So it was beyond the JoAnn Little case. The goals and
objectives were not only related to the administration of justice, but economic development and
housing. Some of the housing in the Washington area was really bad. If you made the wrong
turn you would be in trouble. But then there were other areas where blacks had beautiful homes.
By and large, it was economic development. There were employment problems and a whole
range of things, so our goal had to be looking at what we could do as a result of the people
coming together. Abernathe was there. At the time, he was President of SCLC. He wanted to
call attention to economic development, housing, and education. Because of JoAnn Little,
suddenly you saw a change in the education system. You saw a change in the industry when
they started hiring blacks and putting them in supervisory positions. You started seeing roads
being paved in the black communities where there had been just mud holes and pot holes before.
So the broader picture resulted from JoAnn Little's case. The type of people who came could be
very objective. You talk about 4th Street, well, 4th Street was run-down. I wish you could see it
now. All of those houses are gone. Nice homes along there, Section 8 homes built for the first-
time home buyers. Had JoAnn Little not been tried, I doubt if any of this would have resulted.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
How did you "ferret out" the issues in the case?
The tribe's number one issue, as I've said, was the question of proper share of water. We sat
down and talked it over slowly in sessions that would run a couple hours, three hours maybe.
The tribe talked about certain grievances and problems and I would ask a lot of questions to try
to make sure I understood exactly what they were saying, and that may have helped them to get a
little more exact about what they were concerned with.
One of the problems of defining issues and of getting into the formal mediation process involved
relationships within the tribal leadership specifically. I've experienced it in more than one
situation where there is a substantial difference between the younger members and the senior
members. In this case the youngest member was also the tribal administrator. This was a small
tribe, it did not have much staff-- I think there was maybe a part time secretary and one full-time
person --and it turned out that he was quite reluctant to speak up on behalf of the tribe. So folks
would sit around everywhere on the edges of this common meeting room and there would be lots
of long silences and getting the process to move along took some doing. The mediator had to
push a bit.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
I went to the business leaders,
the chamber of commerce people, and asked, "What is this costing you?"
"It's costing a lot of hotel reservations. People that were
going to have conventions here have canceled. Fishing is quite
popular around there, so some of the fishing tournaments have been
canceled. The downtown shops are losing money because that's
where some of the Klan rallies have been." It was to their self-interest to
get involved, to do something about it. So going
back to the self-interest, that conflict is bad business. Racism
that causes conflict is bad business. And it's bad for the
community business, so what I do is get to the self interest of
these different elements. It would be to their self interest to
get involved to fix the conflict. It's like say a hand or a
body, you smash a finger, well the whole body hurts, not just the
finger, the whole body needs to get involved in fixing the
finger. In making it better for that one element it makes it
better for everybody. Communities work in the same way.
Can you briefly tell us what the other interests were for the
groups besides the businesses?
Political leaders want to be elected and they care for the
overall community. As for educators, their classes were being
canceled, causing disruption in the schools, it's not good
business for them, either.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
They were accused of not paying
taxes, so I went to the IRS and got the laws on taxes and loans,
and we made all that information public. Through these
committees we have a vehicle that allows us to have information.
The committees give us information of what they need or what's
going on because they know the community. Then they disseminate
the information to the rest the population. Through this we set
up a plan.
thing we looked at were the friction points of the Vietnamese not
obeying the laws and customs. We went to the Parks and Wildlife
Department. They control hunting and fishing throughout Texas
and I asked them for the ten commandments of fishing and
crabbing in Texas. They had eight regulations, so then we
needed to teach them to the Vietnamese. Once I got the eight commandments, I had my wife
write them on posterboard and then I went to the Vietnamese people
I was working with, and they translated them for me. So I had
the regulations in English and Vietnamese and we had a training
program. The game wardens would say the regulation in English
and it would be translated into Vietnamese, and we would give them all these laws in
writing in both languages.
The other part was the Vietnamese/American custom barrier.
That caused more problems. For example, when a shrimper or
crabber is out in the bay if they have problems with their boat,
such as mechanical problems, anybody at sea is supposed to come
and help them. The long-time fisherman were complaining that
their boats would have trouble and they would signal, but the Vietnamese would just
laugh at them. This would make them more angry. "Not only are
they taking our way of life, but they're mocking us." But the Vietnamese said they thought they
were waving at them, so they were waving back and smiling at them because they
wanted to be very friendly. They couldn't understand what the
signal was, because they'd never seen the signal. Through these
training programs they taught each other.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
that group have any other issues with language?
Well customs, like cutting in line at the food store, that
irritated a lot of people. The Vietnamese supposedly saw all the options, and the best option
for them was to cut in line.
they understood how their behavior was influencing the
wrong kind of population, were they willing to change?
Yes. Through education and law enforcement. Because
law enforcement was ticketing them and costing them thousands of
dollars in fines, and confiscating whole boatloads of shrimp that
were caught illegally. In this community the Klan had announced
a huge rally, and we helped the community get together to have their own
rally so that they would be protected and not get retaliated on.
We had spokespeople for the business community, the clergy, the educators and other sectors.
When we had the community rally there was a lot of protection, we had plainclothes
police officers and uniformed police officers. It filled the school auditorium and the Klan was
there with their sympathizers. After the dialogue, discussion, and presentations,
the city council voted to pass a resolution. It got coverage,
and the citizens took the town back. I just helped the community
to use all of its elements.
Did the main group or the majority
group make any concessions at all? It sounds as if the
Vietnamese minority community adapted to make adjustments to
accommodate the nine hundred other.
We wanted to buy time that the Vietnamese would get to know
how to do business and how to live in Texas. The American way
let's say. And the locals would get used to the Vietnamese being
amongst them. You go there now, the honor students in the schools
were all Vietnamese. They were getting all the awards and
getting scholarships so I think it was a matter of both sides
understanding each other through that period. And we were the
catalyst to make it happen and help the community realize what it
was facing, and what they could do about it. They decided what
they needed to do and they did it. We just kind of helped them
along the way.
KKK involved in this process?
Yeah, they were. They came to some of the meetings.
Was that the sympathizers or the KKK?
The KKK itself did come. They weren't wearing their robes while they were at the meetings.
What was their dialogue? what were they saying?
First of all, that the Vietnamese were fishing illegally but the government wasn't
doing anything about it, they weren't enforcing the laws. And
because they weren't enforcing the laws, the Vietnamese were taking
advantage of the locals' situation and the government was giving
them all this money so it's an unfair advantage and so the Klan was out
there to help the locals fight that. They were protecting the
local community and its way of life.
Did you ever find out how they became involved?
Any situation like this brings them out. Later on in another setting,
when thousands of persons were coming across the border illegally, the Klan
said they were going to help the border patrol because the border
patrol could not keep all these aliens out. The border patrol
said, "Hey, we don't need your help." Then I found out a
vigilante Mexican American group was going to go out there to
confront the Klan if they ever showed up, but they didn't.
There's not that many of them. Through cross burning and
rhetoric the Klan can cause a lot of concern. The minority
community would say some law enforcement people are sympathizers.
That they may not be wearing their robes but
they certainly share the same feelings. We don't find guilt or
innocence, we're trying to find out what they can do together.
Also, we don't make any decisions. In essence in this whole
process we sell ourselves. It's always a personal interaction.
I have to sell myself to you. Once I do that, then I sell the mediation
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
I went to the sanitation workers' leadership to
find out exactly what their demands were. By this time they'd been circulated everywhere,
anyway, in the newspaper and in leaflets. And I sat down with the parties to see where it is
that they were.
And you get some idea, in the back of your mind, what it would take to resolve the problem.
Of course, they will tell you in no uncertain words. And then you go to the other
side and say, "Mr. Mayor, these are demands being made by the sanitation workers. Now what
is it that keeps you from agreeing to their demands? Why is it that you refuse to do this?" All
of these questions are focused towards why and what your position is.
The sanitation workers position was not only that they were very low paid, but they contended
that they were not treated as human beings ought to be treated, and that they wanted their dues
write-off. Now do you understand what I mean by dues write-off?
No, I don't.
Well there's a union. They don't collect the money from the union members. Rather the
city, or whatever they're working for, pays the union, and the city collects the money and gives
it to the union, right? Or the company they're working for does this--that's what you call dues
write-off. That's a withdrawal from your paycheck of the dues which is turned over to the
union. The city refused to give a dues write-off because they refused to recognize the union.
Well, that was just their attitude, to not recognize a union. They didn't want any unions
there in city government.
You think it didn't have anything to do with the fact that the sanitation workers were
almost exclusively black?
Of course it did. But see, when you've got a union, one that's recognized, that caused a
problem. When the company has a recognized the union, that within itself gives the members
power. That gives the union bargaining rights with you, that you freely granted, right? And
the relationship between you and the union becomes a bargaining thing. Well the city wasn't
about to give that up, most especially to a group of black men.
So the unions stepped up their protest and they moved to more than just rioting and picketing,
they moved to mass demonstrations, as you remember. And the city, being opposed, and back
in those days, chose to interfere with the demonstrations to just simply give the marchers pure
hell. That was that kind of climate that was going on by the time we got into late February and
And Martin, the union and the black leadership in Memphis, by this time, had joined the union
in protest. The black ministers, the NAACP, and the organizations like that, had come in on
the union side, so that's going on. And in order to step it up another notch, they invited Dr.
King in. Just about everywhere Dr. King ever went, he was invited in. He didn't particularly
start the movement. So when he came to Memphis, naturally, this further highlighted the
movement. Every night they'd have this big mass meeting with eight or ten thousand people
and they'd have marches every Saturday. So Dr. King would come in for that and that lifted
the protest to another level. You have nine or ten thousand people in mass meetings at night,
and you're having big marches on the weekend.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
We don't say, "Figure
out what your goals are." Flip that over and say, "Identify what the issues are." And that's the
next phase. There was a guy who wanted to know how I got involved in the Justice Department.
told him, "I'm not the issue." You have to identify the issues. In the meantime, you're developing
The first issue is historical?
Well, yes. The first issue is
historical. You've got initial hostility between whites and Indians, so you know that goes back
That's a given -- you put that on the table. The next things you put on the table are the issues of
economics, employment, housing, and discrimination, and identify which one of these things
problem. With minority communities across the board, even today, you can almost always go
those issues of deprivation in some way and form. You realize that, so you pull up another issue
next issue could be Indian treatment in the criminal justice system. In this particular case, was
this an act
of suicide by this young man or was it brutality on the part of the jailers or the police? That's an
you've got to identify...
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Okay. How much direction do you give to minority
communities, or how much assistance would you give them in terms of identifying their issues,
prioritizing their issues for them?
In caucus, the risk is you get into more of an evaluative procedure with the minority side,
comparatively less so with the white side. The risk is that the evaluation will become known in
the joint sessions and then there you are, blown out of the water. Again, my experience – I
don’t know what other CRS people have done, but my own experience then, and still is – is to
be very transparent about this and say, in effect, to both sides, "Now I sense that there’s a
need....” Particularly what happens is that there’s a frustration on the part of the
establishment’s side in the process, and it allows you to say, "What I think is happening here is
that the minority side doesn’t really have a good sense as to how to organize the issues. I think I
need to spend some time with them to be able to do that. Would you let me do that?” So when
you’re meeting with the minority side in caucuses, it’s much more than an evaluative
procedure. I mean, think about this: "What are the consequences of taking this action now?”
Now eventually, that gets evened-out, my sense is, by doing it jointly so as you get closer to the
actual agreement. Then you’re sitting there with both sides and you’re doing much more of an
evaluative procedure toward the end than you were in the beginning, because people trust you. I
think that I have much more comfort -- by the way, it doesn’t matter if it’s mediation; I could
be doing a problem-solving workshop -- as a facilitator starting out in a much more
clearly-defined position of neutrality -- neutral in the sense of being neutral and non-evaluative,
and then becoming increasingly so as trust is built up between the parties and as trust is built up
with me. So by the time we get to the point of people getting ready to sign off on an agreement of
some sort, you’re fully-prepared then to say, "Well first of all, let me tell you my own
experience,” and I’ll go into some experience, and I’ll say, "Let me give you a perspective
about this from another point of view.......you can do this, but here’s another possibility......here
are some resources you can look at if you want to go beyond me, in a sense....”
But you wouldn’t do that up-front in caucus?
I wouldn’t in the very beginning, because I think that the danger is, you’re taking over the
negotiation for one side, and then when you come back into the joint session, that side is looking
at you saying, "Well, your turn!” (Laughter)
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Again going back to what you were telling people before you
brought them together. You said that you wanted to mediate the university's thoughts on this
incident, but did you tell them at that point that you had a broader interest too, or did you bring
that in later, or did it just happen naturally?
Well again, it was as much a part of our regional interest as my propensity. My propensity
was to let that open itself up wherever it went. Generally people will say, that's just the tip of the
iceberg. That's just an incident. The real issue is that we're isolated on campus, we don't have
any opportunity to serve our student government, we have professors here, and it just comes out.
So you either say, "well that's too bad, good luck with that, but we're going to deal with this
incident with the fraternity" or you can limit what they say, and just limit the discussions to that.
I went into a small community in Texas and I can't even remember
what the triggering incident was, probably police use of force, I'd have to look back. When I got
there we were in a community center and there were about fifty people there. I said, "Just talk to
me. What are your concerns?” Within about an hour, I realized there were people there who
were concerned about the school district, the police department, there were four different interest
groups, and I just divided them up in the room.
Everyone that's most interested concerns in the school district, go in that corner.
Everyone that's more interested in police here, city government here, contracting here. And just
divided them up and it turned out to be a five-prong community conflict resolution kind of thing.
So we were dealing with just about every major system in that city. But I didn't know that when I
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
During our outreach and assessment process
after that first meeting with the university officials, Larry Turner and I became very aware of the
racial history at the university and the racial problems in the course of our meetings with some of
the African-American teachers and professors. There was also an African American student
center. It was a place for people to learn about the history. There were also a number of
professors and doctorate students who were personally involved in some of the past racial issues
and were still on campus. It was part of their living history. There were other incidents that had
taken place. A major source of the racial conflict, as we were informed, was that a number of the
white students coming into UMass -- which is a large institution, 30,000 students, so it's a big
city -- come from small towns and rural areas and many of the African-American students come
from the cities. There was a potential clash as there was no background or relationships between
the two sets of groups. The university really had not done a good job in developing an
environment that would be effective in bringing people of different races and backgrounds
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
We couldn't figure out what it was, what more do
we have to add to this? That's when we realized that there was more to it, they were really
troubled by this distrust and attitude of the police.
How did you get that realization? Did they say something to you? Was it your insight?
I think it was more of our insight. They didn't say it. It was just not said. It was like, "We
were holding the whole mediation process hostage because there's something that you haven't
resolved." We didn't realize what it was. They didn't say it. They wouldn't sign and they
wouldn't say why. We couldn't move it. I don't think they wanted to say.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Haven't you run into situations where the establishment side (I'm assuming that it would
occur more on that side) says, "No, there is no problem"?
I can remember one small rural community near an Indian reservation where I was talking
to an institutional person, and at first I thought he was talking "tongue-in-cheek". He was saying
things like, "They are all lazy, and just living off government funds. And they are all alcoholics."
I suddenly realized this man was dead serious! I mean, totally serious. He had absolutely no
expectations for these children, so it was no wonder that Indian kids in that school district were
getting nowhere. I came back to that community later and tried to get in to see this guy's
successor, but he wouldn't talk to me. "Don't come, I don't have to talk to you." He called my
boss, and said, "Send Silke Hansen home." Of course, I made it clear that just because he chose
not to talk to me, it didn't mean that I would disappear and fade into the woodwork. But I never
met with him because he just didn't want to talk to the Federal Government. So it happens.
So what did you do then?
In that kind of case I just make sure that the community knows what other options they
have. I make sure they know that they can go to the Office of Civil Rights and the Department of
Education. I tell them what state resources are available, too, and maybe help them identify their
issues similar to the kinds of things I was talking about earlier. I help them figure out what
kinds of things need to change in their community instead of just focusing on eliminating one
particular person. But ultimately, in reality, I went on to other cases that were more ready.
You mentioned at one point that the majority of cases don't go to mediation. What
determines whether a case is appropriate for mediation or not?
Well, for a start, you need parties that are identifiable enough so you can say
"These are the sides." Sometimes that is not clear. Sometimes there is tension in the community,
but it is hard to define who, exactly, the opposing parties are. Second, you need specific issues
that are clearly-definable. One of the things that's difficult to mediate is, for example, if there is a
court case and a community believes that even bringing the case to court was an injustice, or the
disposition of it is not fair. Usually you can't mediate that. So in that case, I would look for ways
to bring some healing, some communication, some positive interaction among members of the
minority and the majority community. I'd just try to begin to get some common interests, some
common goals to deal with race relations in that community in general, without going through a
formal mediation process.
Now, I'm one of those people who starts off every case initially by saying to myself, "Okay, how
can I bring this to mediation?" It helps me from day one, minute one to have an agenda in my
mind. As I'm working toward that, it may become clear fairly quickly that the case is not going to
go to mediation, and that's fine. But if I start out thinking that it might go to mediation, I have a
perspective to work from when I approach the parties. If that doesn't work, then I ask myself, "Is
there some training we can do? What other kinds of assistance can we provide? Are there some
documents I can give them, or maybe I can just facilitate some meetings?" or whatever. But
usually, unless I am asked specifically to come in for some other purpose, I'll assume we're trying
to initiate mediation.
Remember the case I was talking about earlier, about tax day? In that case I was asked to come to
facilitate the meeting. I ended up facilitating another one similar to that about a month later in the
same community. And there were some great things that came out of that, so it was a very
rewarding and beneficial event. But that would be an example of where I didn't attempt to go
toward mediation, even though there were some pretty good outcomes that arose from that
When we were off the tape, you started to tell us about the "two taproot" theory. Tell us
I heard this from Gil Pompa, so I refer to it as "Gil Pompa's theory" [Gil Pompa was a
former director of CRS]. In essence, what he says is that in racial conflicts, there are two taproots
growing simultaneously. One is a perception or belief of unfair treatment or discrimination. The
other is a lack of confidence in any redress system. There is the belief that, "Even if I complain, it
is not going to make a difference." And those two beliefs (or taproots) are growing in force, side-
by-side. Then there is a triggering incident. Rodney King was a classic example. And that
triggering incident then results in these roots really exploding. Now the reason that I said I have
changed it slightly is because I can't really see roots exploding. So I have changed it to say that
there are two fuses leading to a bomb, and those two fuses are constantly strengthening and
growing in intensity.
But even though these two fuses leading to the bomb are there and are becoming more
dangerous, it's not until that triggering incident that the bomb explodes and you have violence. If
you could have disconnected or defused either of those fuses, the triggering incident wouldn't
have done anything. If people who feel they are facing despair had an effective redress system,
you wouldn't get that tension. If you didn't have a perception of disparity in the first place, you
wouldn't need that redress system. But with both of those growing in intensity, that triggering
incident and it could be almost anything will then set it off.
And then once you have that triggering incident, I think one of the mistakes that we often make
in responding to that is that all we look at is the triggering incident. We try to resolve the
triggering incident, and we totally miss all of the pieces of those two fuses. We don't even look
at those fuses! But the fuses are still there, so unless they are dealt with, they are going to regroup
after a while, even when people don't even remember the triggering incident anymore. So part of
our job, if you are really trying to deal with and respond to a violent conflict, is to recognize what
those two fuses look like. Because if you can't deal with them, another triggering incident is
going to set it off again.
With the Rodney King situation, if you remember the disturbances or "civil disobedience" or
"riots" or "revolution" the semantics of what you called it became a very big issue those
events occurred not when Rodney King was beaten, even though you would think that the
beating would have generated anger. But rather, the incidents occurred when the redress system
didn't work. When the police officers were found "not guilty", that is when all hell broke loose.
The anger was about much more than the Rodney King incident, it was about these two fuses that
had been growing. Rodney King was just a triggering incident that set that off.
And you can look at other examples of that as well. But it's an illustration which makes sense,
even when you present it to institutional heads; they understand the importance of addressing
perceptions of inequality. Even if they think they are doing everything fairly, they realize that it is
in their best interests to not have those fuses growing in their community. So I say, "Maybe what
is needed here isn't labeling you as racist. Maybe what's needed is for you to have a better
opportunity to explain to the community what you are doing. Maybe the community just doesn't
understand all of the positive things. I can help you with that, too." But, having the illustration of
the fuses is a good way to help people understand some of the dynamics of a community. If I ever
get around to writing or becoming more re-aligned with academia, I would like to do some
research, at least paper research, which either supports or kills that theory, because to me it
makes a lot of sense. I would like to develop more material and resources which either support
that idea or say, "Silke, you are out of your mind. That might sound good from Gil Pompa and
apply there, but if you look at the broader picture, here is what really happens."
I am assuming that most of the time when CRS gets involved, it is because there has been a
Certainly if there has been a triggering incident we will get involved, but we also get
involved before a triggering incident takes place. It is just as likely that there is, for instance, a
community that's just frustrated and has nowhere else to go. Maybe that's because they can see
that the lack of equity and the perception of discrimination is there, and they have tried some
avenue of redress that hasn't worked, so they come to CRS and say, "What can you do for us?"
And usually, especially if they're people that don't know us that well yet, but maybe just know
the Justice Department, they will expect an investigation and fact-finding and some kind of order
being issued. So we have to constantly re-explain how CRS actually works, but it's their one
hope for resolving this, because they don't see any other options. Frequently, there is a triggering
incident, but not necessarily. And especially in the case of people who already know us, maybe
from a previous triggering incident, maybe they will call us and say, "Silke, or Rosa, or Phillip,
we are facing such-and-such and so-and-so, and she won't listen to us, and this has been going on
and something is going to happen if you don't come." I remember my very first time in a
particular reservation I hadn't been in the region that long yet, and to this day I don't know
where they got my name but they called me and basically said, "If you don't come" -- and this
was a police relations issue "we are going to start marching in the streets, so you'd better get
down here." And it sounded urgent enough so that I did indeed get down there. We ended up
having a fairly lengthy mediation session that ended with a good agreement.
So ultimately, in this case, they were trying to avoid a triggering incident, but they were
concerned with what they saw as ongoing physical abuse by the local police of Indian citizens. In
their mind, anytime there was an Indian apprehended, they had to take him to the hospital before
they could take him to the prison because he was so badly beaten up; they always resisted arrest,
so they just said, "If something doesn't happen here, we are going to have a triggering incident
and we don't want that to happen. So Silke, it is all up to you." And I thought, "Gee thanks, I
Do you have any routine assessments or anything you do, where you go into communities
and try to figure out how long these fuses are, or how quickly they are burning, however you
want to use your metaphor? Do you go in and assess the situation without being called in?
Well, I do try to find out how much support there is in the community for a particular
perspective and for a particular perception. I do that partly to get a better view of what's going
on, partly for practical reasons I mean, if we are supposed to be dealing with community issues
and it is really just the Hansen family that doesn't like the way the local police captain is
handling things, it is going to be difficult to handle that as a potential mediation or as a
community conflict. So, just to see whether there is, in fact, a real community entity that wants to
deal with this issue, because if there isn't, it is very difficult for us to do anything. So, it's really
just to evaluate the depth of support and willingness to engage.
I might find that everyone I talk to whether in the local restaurant or at the local Post Office or
wherever agrees that such-and-such is a problem but no one really wants to do anything. Then
my hands are tied, too, because if I don't have two parties with which to mediate, there isn't a
whole lot that I can do. And in meeting with the institution... Now if that institution recognizes
that there is some problem in their relationship with the community, they might want some
training or some facilitation meetings, or some examples of how to do things, or approaches they
might use with the police department or the school. And of course, we would be willing to do
But, it's difficult if there isn't a critical mass, and it doesn't have to be a large mass, but there
needs to be some core community base which wants to bring about the change. And the other
reason that that "critical mass" is important is that those people are going to need to keep things
going after CRS leaves. If changes are made in a community only because the Justice Department
recommends them, there's a real risk of the changes falling apart once the Justice Department is
gone. Unless you have a local body that is going to hold the right people accountable, there isn't
a whole lot that CRS is going to be able to do in the long run.
Going in a very different direction now, let's talk a little bit about how you build trust with
the people you are working with. One of the things that I am especially interested in is that you
are a white woman.
I did. But the people reading your interview won't know.
Quick story: I belong to a church out in Montebello which is predominately African
American; I am not the only white, but I am the exception rather than the rule. Anyway, our
minister out there is African American as well, and he was preaching about race relations one
Sunday the idea that color really doesn't matter, and how we ought to get along with everyone,
and how inclusiveness is part of what we pride ourselves on in that church. And that's true. And
he said, "You know, sometimes I forget that Silke is white," and I said, "Well, don't worry about
it. Sometimes I forget, too."
So it depends on the setting, it depends on who I'm talking to. Early on in some cases, I'll say,
"Look, I understand that I am a white woman who used to live in New York. What do I know?
So help me understand. What do I need to know to be able to work here? I don't try to pretend
that I know what you are going through because I don't. Even if I do, I am not going to say that I
know, because I recognize that I need to learn from you." And, most people appreciate talking to
someone who doesn't think they have all of the answers. And again, I do a lot of listening. Time
is no object. Those first few trips I schedule very few meetings, because I want people to have as
much time as they need to tell me everything that they think I need to know. If they get angry,
that is fine. If it takes a long time, that's fine. And if you want to beat up on the government, that
is fine too. You know, I have broad shoulders I can take it.
I also try to be very clear about what I can and can't do so that people don't have false
expectations, and I think for the most part they appreciate that. "Now, here is what I can do and
here is what I can't do." The other thing that I have found is that in many cases and particularly
in some of these grassroots communities people just appreciate you returning their calls, not
dismissing them, just acknowledging and validating their concerns. Even if I can't change the
racism that prevails in a particular area, it doesn't take terribly long to have that common human
denominator and get past the "Well you are white and I am not" or "You're Indian or you're black
or your Hispanic or whatever, and I am not" phase.
What about building trust between the parties, how do you go about doing that?
I think a number of different ways. If I can actually get them to the mediation table and get
them to where they are actually listening to each other, then it is actually embarrassing how easy
it is to reach an agreement among the parties. That's because in most cases, they have never really
done that before. They have talked at each other and yelled at each other, and they've said things
about each other to the media and so on, but they have never really listened and responded and
then listened again. So once they actually hear what some of the needs and what some of the
obstacles are that each of them faces, and once they talk to real individuals and not "those
people" or "those administrators," it just comes to a whole different level.
There are certainly cases where the two parties never get to a point where they trust each other;
there are also cases where the parties agree to trust each other only because I'm there. Even in
those cases, though, they each agree to do something and that is a step in the right direction. So,
you know, I am not going to pretend that the parties suddenly become "good buddies" and live
happily ever after just because Silke Hansen was in town. But at least they have grappled with
one particular aspect of their conflict, and in that regard they have a better relationship than they
had before. That's a step in the right direction.
Would you say that having trust between you and the parties is more important than having
the parties trust each other?
Ultimately, my objective is to have them trust each other, but I think it is difficult to
accomplish that if they don't trust me first. I am the one who is trying to arrange the situation in
such a way that they can trust each other, so I mean if I had to choose between the parties trusting
me and the parties trusting each other, I would choose the latter, because that is, after all, what
we are working toward. And although my ego likes being massaged as much as anybody's, I like
thinking that people trust me. That doesn't do me any good, though, unless they ultimately end
up trusting each other. But I think one grows out of the other.
Can you be an effective mediator if the parties don't trust you?
I guess it depends. My immediate response would be no, but I guess it would really depend
on why they didn't trust me. If there is just some hesitation at first about whether or not they can
trust me, that's one thing. If they don't trust me for a particular reason, that's different. I think that
if they have a particular reason that they might not trust me beyond, "Can you trust any white
women?" it might be difficult. But if it's just, "We're not sure, but what the heck -- we will give it
a chance," well, that situation has possibilities.
I can think of one mediation in particular: The case was in court when I was contacted. The judge
called me and asked and of course it was the one day I came to work in jeans if I could go to
court that afternoon. I said, "Sure, no problem," and then I had to decide whether to go shopping
over lunch or go home and change. I decided that shopping would be much more fun; plus, I was
closer to the store than I was to home. So I went shopping so that I would look semi-respectable
going into court. Anyway, I was ultimately asked if I would be willing to mediate this particular
case. I had some familiarity with both parties I had, in fact, mediated a case in that community
seven years earlier, involving some of the same people.
I found out later that some of the institution representatives had felt a little bit as if they were
forced into that first agreement, so there wasn't a lot of trust at that point on the part of the
institution. They expected that I would bully them into an agreement; on the other hand, their
only other choice at the time was court. The community wasn't very optimistic, either -- they
didn't believe that mediation would be very useful with that particular institution, because the
institution was too hard-nosed, racist and inflexible, so they had very low expectations.
Nevertheless, when the judge asked the parties if they'd be willing to mediate, neither party
wanted to appear to be the unreasonable one. So they both said, "Sure."
That ended up being a fairly long mediation, but they did reach agreement. The attorneys then
prepared the settlement agreement and so on, which was an outgrowth of the mediation
agreement. The institution representative came up to me -- this was either near the end of the
mediation or right afterward -- and said, "Silke, when we started I didn't have any confidence in
you at all, because I had heard such-and-such. This really worked well, though, and thank you for
helping us on this." That person seemed very positive and appreciative of what I had done during
that particular mediation process, so it was interesting.
How many court-referred cases do you get?
Not that many. I think that they are the exception rather than the rule. I have had a few
others in which I've contacted the parties after their case was in court. In one case, the parties got
a continuance from the judge after informing [her] that they were going into mediation. In
another case, the parties didn't even need a continuance -- it was a small community, and the
parties were pretty well-defined, so they were able to reach a mediation agreement fairly directly.
In cases like those, I have always managed to let the attorneys write up the final agreement and
settle it, because I figure it has to meet their standards at some point, anyway.
"They are getting paid for it, so they might as well do the work?"
No, that is obviously not the main rationale, but it makes sense for the attorneys to word the
agreement in a way that makes sense to them. Only they know how they're going to present it to
the court and so forth, and so having them do the writing and such is much more efficient than
writing a draft myself, only to have them redo it. I mean, they have the gist of the notes that I
keep and the agreements that are reached during the mediation process, but they then fashion the
final agreement. I review it, and if I think there is a problem, then we reword it. But as I said, that
is the exception rather than the rule.
The next question that I have on here, we covered pretty well -- about what you actually do
in the mediation meetings. But the one thing I wanted to talk about a little bit more was the
extent to which you help the parties develop solutions. Or, do you really stand back and let them
come up with their own solutions?
No, I mean if I do think I might have a solution that they might not come up with, I try to
frame it in a way that will ultimately allow them to take the credit for it. I don't want them to say,
"Well, we did what Silke suggested." Because then, first of all, they don't have the ownership in
it that they should. Second of all, if it doesn't work, it becomes my fault and not their fault. And
so I think that for the sake of the agreement, it is better if they believe that this is something that
they worked out and that makes sense to them. But if they are just struggling -- if I know that
they're looking for a particular solution -- I will put it in terms of, "What if you....?" rather than
"Why don't you...?" And I will try to just expand and put a different twist on something that they
already have, rather than suggesting something else entirely. I certainly make it clear from day
one that I am not there to tell them what to do; I am there to help them work something out, and
you know, if during the process of doing that I have ideas of my own, then I'll throw those into
the pot as well, but always in a way that allows them to take ownership of my ideas, so that they
don't end up saying, "Well, let's do what Silke says."
One of my favorite examples to give parties -- and again, if I do mediation
training, I often use this one -- is the one with the girls fighting over the orange: One wants the
rind for the cake, the other wants the juice to drink, so it looks like neither one can get the whole
orange. Many times you'll hear that example stop there, though. There's more: The girl who got
the rind -- if she hadn't gotten the rind, maybe she could have used vanilla flavor or almond
flavor or maple flavor. The point is that she didn't actually need the orange; she just needed
flavoring. And likewise, the girl who got the juice -- if she didn't get the juice, she could have
had milk or apple juice or water or coffee in my case beer but she was really just looking for
a beverage. So they fought over the orange, but the orange wasn't necessarily what would best
meet their respective needs they just saw it that way.
Part of my job, then, is to get the girls to see that the orange is not necessarily the objective;
rather, I need to get one girl to recognize that she is looking for flavoring and then investigate all
of the various ways that she might obtain that. Similarly, I need to get the other girl to realize that
she's really looking for a beverage and explore the possibilities of obtaining that. Eventually, you
may get to the point where the orange itself isn't wanted by either of them anymore, but their
interests and their needs have been met, and I think that's what differentiates good mediators
from outstanding mediators, if you will. It's that ability to help replace the rind with another
flavoring and the juice with another beverage, because once the parties can do that, their options
are vastly multiplied, because they don't even need the orange anymore.
And they pay me to do this -- I love this job. I sort of get on my little soap box and I apologize
when I do that but it really is exciting when people in conflict begin to see that there are ways
of dealing with their problems that they haven't even explored before. It's pretty exciting.
I have a theoretical question for you. At the Conflict Consortium, we have been working on
a theory of intractable conflicts for a long time. We have said that intractable conflicts generally
cannot be mediated (almost by definition) and that identity conflicts, including racial conflicts,
are particularly likely to be intractable. So as I was listening to your discussion about the orange,
I began to wonder, how do you get people to reframe a conflict from being about race to being
about something else?
It's what I started talking about early on. You don't talk about race; instead, you ask, "What
are the hiring policies?" or, "What are the discipline issues?" You ask, "What does the
curriculum look like?" or, "Do you have access to the establishment, to the superintendent?"
Because even though the community sees the superintendent as being racist and as being the
reason why they can't get what they want, the real issues and I'm not going to say race hasn't
influenced what has happened there but the next level or the level at which this needs to be
resolved isn't race; it's policies and procedures, and access, and communities, and processes. It's
about interaction and communication, both of which were sorely lacking in this case. The race
factor just made it more difficult because both sides believed, "Those people are difficult to deal
with because of what they have been taught." Race was the orange, but it wasn't the issue.
The community could get a person of the same race in that position who didn't change the
policies, and that would be more frustrating, because now one can't even blame it on racism
anymore. But if they got somebody else who is white, but who changes the policy and is more
responsive to the community, that will decrease the perception of racism. And that will diminish
the taproot or fuse of inequality and disparity. So even though people see the issue as race, it
really isn't race at all.
Another example of that is the issue of sovereignty, though I haven't yet been able to get the
parties to understand this, and so I haven't been successful in reframing in this area. Sovereignty
is a big issue with Native Americans, particularly when it comes to law enforcement on
reservations. There is less and less willingness by tribal leadership to allow a non-tribal law
enforcement to have any kind of role on the reservation. This also applies in cases of hunting and
fishing rights disputes.
One of the biggest obstacles to developing some effective collaborative approaches to law
enforcement on and near reservations, and to hunting/fishing rights on and near reservations is
that both the American Indians and state officials approach it from a perspective of, "Who has the
sovereignty? Who has the jurisdiction?" What I try to get across is, "Okay, if you have the
jurisdiction, or if you have the sovereignty, what is it you want to do with it? What is it that you
want to accomplish?" If I could get them to talk about what effective law enforcement would
look like, regardless of who has the jurisdiction and the sovereignty, I really think they could
work that out. I totally believe that. But it is such a sensitive issue, it is very difficult to get
beyond that. The focus has been on the sovereignty, because it's a symbolic issue as well as a real
issue. Symbolic issues are very difficult to surmount.
There was one hunting/fishing case that I was called in to, where the state and the tribe had been
in negotiations but reached a deadlock. That's when someone called me. They said, "Well, so-
and-so says Silke Hansen claims she can do this. Let's call her."
"Oh gee, thanks a lot!" I keep telling people, "Why don't you call when you start these
negotiations, not when they fall apart?"
But I went up anyway, and they showed me what they had done, and I said, "I don't even want to
see that." I started putting stuff on the white board. "If you have regulations, what are your
objectives? What is it you are trying to accomplish?" And they were like this [she linked her
fingers together] they absolutely agreed. So once they agreed on that, it was just a matter of
determining what kind of policies each side needed to bring those objectives about. Both sides
gave a little, and at the end of a very long day, the people at the table reached an agreement.
That's the good news. The bad news is that when it went back to the tribe the tribe didn't buy it,
because they said it was encroaching too much on their sovereignty.
Another case in the same state ended the same way. It involved a similar kind of negotiation. The
parties reached an agreement at the end of the day, but in that case it was the state that blocked
the agreement. The negotiators went back to their superiors, who threw out the agreement, again
on issues of sovereignty. So there was no agreement.
But to me, it proves a point. You have to cut through and disregard the identity issues well, you
can't ignore these issues totally because they are there. But the mistake that we usually make in
most discussions is that we make racism or sovereignty the issue, and that is not the issue. The
issue is, "How can we get past that to provide effective law enforcement?" "How can we get past
that to provide good stewardship of our natural resources?" But the history of feeling attacked
and encroached-upon and the perception that "they are just trying to whittle away at what we
have, piece-by-piece," prevents people from focusing on the real issues. On the other hand, there
is the concern that the state "should not give those people special rights and recognition." These
feelings are so strong that it is very difficult to come from a different perspective. But I am
absolutely convinced if they could just throw out that "orange" and deal with the "flavoring" and
the "beverage," there would be much more common ground.
When you succeed in getting them to do that, what is the long-term result in terms of
identity and symbolic issues and race relations? If they can cut through those things to resolve
this incident, does it have a long-term effect on other incidents?
Well, I think it would if it worked at all, but as I said in the two examples that I gave you, it
didn't work. The people at the table were able to reframe the problem, but their superiors were
not willing to do that, and the agreements were thrown out for political reasons. It was seen as
giving too much or losing too much in terms of sovereignty and jurisdiction and control. So
neither agreement held up.
I do believe that had it held up, it could have provided a good model, a good precedent for how
we can get cooperative agreements on issues like this. In fact, there are other states where there is
less mistrust between state and tribe, and where in fact we do have better cooperative
relationships. If you could either just not mention "sovereignty" or acknowledge that each of
them has sovereignty, and that the two separate governments of two sovereign states are reaching
an agreement, I think it would be doable. But there is so much tension and mistrust in this
particular setting that it is difficult to make that happen.
What about other settings though? Such as, for instance, the principal who was accused of
being racist, where you were able to reframe it in terms of discipline policy and hiring and that
type of thing? Would that have affected the long-term relationship on race relations in the
It would, because the potential triggering incidents are less common, so the "bomb" is less
likely to go off. Now there is a precedent of communication. There is a mechanism and an
expectation that people will address and deal with problems before they get to the point of
explosion. So it is the redress side that's handled more effectively. Once there is a precedent for
communication, it makes a big difference.
Probably one of the most positive examples of that is the same tax day facilitation. There were
anywhere from 75 to 100 people in that room and at least as many when I went back for a second
meeting. But out of those meetings came a sort of "community board" which included Hispanic
and Anglo participants, including law enforcement people. They formed this board and I trained
them in three days I gave them three days of basic mediation training. I remember one of the
members of the group said, "Gee, you know, Silke, I think this is the first time somebody has
come and said, 'I'm from the Federal Government and I'm here to help you,' and then actually
done it." I thought that was a huge compliment at the time.
That board still exists today, and is still dealing with problems involving the police and
community relations. But they also began to look at other sources of tension within the
community. This community started out as very mistrustful. There were a lot of accusations
about how Hispanics were being treated by the law enforcement system. But now the leader of
that system is working with that Hispanic community to deal with education issues in the
community purely because people are talking to each other now. And they pay me to do that!
What do you do when you get the parties to the table and they reach an impasse, and just
can't go forward?
I can think of only one case where we actually got to mediation and that happened. It was a
court-requested or court-ordered mediation. And it was after days of work. I did what I usually
do: I usually start with what I would call shuttle diplomacy I hedge my bets. I like to know
what the parties are going to say when they come to the table before they come to the table. So I
do a lot of work with the parties individually before I actually bring them to the table. In this
case, they were in the same building, but in separate rooms. It became very, very clear that we
were not going to get anywhere.
So I ended up just telling the court, "Your honor, I'm sorry, I tried, but it's not going to happen
here," without saying whose fault it was. You know, I had my own perception, and I thought,
quite frankly, that one of the parties was probably foolish, because they could have gotten some
gains and they ultimately lost. I think they could have negotiated some gains out of this. So in
that case, I didn't have a clue of how to get past the impasse. But that's the only one I can think
of where parties agreed to mediate, but where they didn't reach at least some agreement.
There was another one that wasn't court-ordered, but which had been in court, and it included
some hiring and affirmative action-type provisions. The parties reached agreement on most of the
pieces, but not all of them. In this case, I think that part of the reason they couldn't agree on all of
it was that one of the parties was given false expectations by their attorney. The way we left it in
the agreement was that we stated the areas in which they agreed, and the rest went back to the
court and the judge would issue a ruling. In each case, what the judge ruled was what the other
party had offered in the first place. So, unfortunately for the other party the minority party in
this case they really didn't get anything more than they might have gotten if they had continued
to mediate and reach a settlement that way.
One of the things that I always do at the beginning of a mediation session, is get the parties to
agree on what to do if there is partial but not full agreement. If there are ten issues, for
example, and they can only reach agreement on seven, does that mean they go ahead and sign an
agreement on those seven, and leave the other three hanging? Or, if we don't reach agreement on
everything, then do we throw it all out and say that there's no agreement, period? I think you
want to get that understanding before they start. It's much better than getting half-way through the
mediation, only to have one party suddenly say, "I'm sorry, if we don't get such-and-such, then
all bets are off." So getting an assurance from both parties that partial agreements are acceptable
is one of the ways of avoiding a major disaster. Sometimes, just pointing out how much
agreement they've already reached then becomes an incentive for continuing the discussions.
I can think of another case in which there was huge mistrust and even hostility between the
parties. Some of the issues were complicated enough that it would require, or certainly benefit
from, some outside expertise. So in that case, what we did was have each of the parties
recommend a consultant who could provide expertise, and then we picked a third person within
that field of expertise. So we had those three consultants or experts meet, and come up with some
proposed approaches to dealing with the issues in contention. They did that successfully, and
then they were able to sell those ideas to the parties, because they had credibility. So that enabled
us to get them to agree to some approaches, and that would have been very difficult had we
brought in only one consultant. If we'd had only one "expert," both parties would have said, "Is
that consultant on their side, or is she on our side?" So having a panel of three worked very well
in that particular instance. It was expensive for CRS, because CRS doesn't have those kinds of
resources. But we did it in that particular case, and they did ultimately reach an agreement. So
that's another approach to get past an impasse.
And those three consultants met by themselves?
Initially. And then they served as resources to the mediation process, until the overall plan
or outline was agreed to. And then when it came to finalizing you know, crossing the "t"s and
dotting the "i"s that we did ourselves, just myself and the parties.
Oh, I remember another case with an impasse. Here the parties had reached agreement on all the
important stuff. We were working on finalizing the wording, and we got to the point of saying,
"Each community and each ethnic group has a right to be represented and have its culture
represented in the curriculum and other processes at the school." But that didn't work, because
everyone wanted to have his or her own culture mentioned, but no one could decide what each
group would be called. For illustration, let's say the conflict involved and Asian group. So do we
say, "All Asians?" "No, no, it can't be Asians, it has to be Vietnamese specifically." But someone
else said, "No, not Vietnamese, but Southeast Asian." And others just wanted "Asians." So just
the wording almost blew the entire mediation.
We finally got around that impasse with some wording that I came up with: "All children
whether they call themselves Vietnamese or Asian or Southeast Asian or whatever, have the right
to have their culture and history reflected." So that way, it wasn't the parties labeling the
children, it was the parties acknowledging that the children would label themselves in whatever
way they wanted to. We came to this idea at about 9:30 at night, and the attorneys were like,
"What is this?!" But the parties were absolutely adamant. They would not agree on anything else.
So it's amazing what can sometimes sort of throw that monkey-wrench in there.
That's a great story, and it seems to me that it illustrates one of the theoretical ideas we've
been advocating that identity conflicts tend to be intractable. Because what they were arguing
about, essentially, was identities....yet your wording found a way around that.
And, again, the reason that we found a way around it was by facing it, not by just working
around it. You don't minimize and you don't pretend that the identity issue doesn't exist, but you
try to figure out where the identity is important. I think that we got down to realizing that what
was important was that the children needed to not have their identity defined for them. And by
framing it in terms of the children calling themselves whatever they wanted to, we got away from
either party labeling them. So that identity issue was acknowledged. But it was acknowledged in
a way that neither party imposed their ideas of "identity" on the other, and that's where the
That was a very interesting case. When we started on that one, neither party had very high
expectations of reaching an agreement. So it was a very slow, gradual process, which we took
piece by piece. And I think they really surprised themselves when there was any point on which
they actually reached agreement. But any time they did, they thought, "Well if we can get this
piece, maybe we can get this next piece too," and by golly, they did. I'm not going to claim that
this is now a perfectly happy community where they all lived happily ever after, but the process
of going through that mediation was valuable for everyone, even though there was still some
mistrust between the parties afterwards. But in trying to implement the agreement, there was
some effort at a common approach, rather than a win-lose competition. And that was huge in that
situation. I think both parties would have liked to have been the winners, but it probably
wouldn't have gotten them very much.
Have you seen acknowledgment of a group's identity as important in other cases as well, or
the value of a group's identity?
Well, to some extent, the sovereignty issue that I was talking about before the reason that
sovereignty is so important is to maintain identity. I don't think there is any group in the country
today that is more concerned about having their entire identity stolen than American Indians.
They really feel that they are under siege in many cases. Obviously, I can't talk for everyone there
any more than I can speak for any other group. But I think there is a real sense of it being a
struggle to hold on to their identity, and that's why sovereignty becomes so important.
Let's talk a little bit more about the issue of power disparity between the parties, and CRS's
role as a neutral. Even though you say you are a neutral, you also, in a sense, try to empower the
low-power group, do you not? How do you balance that?
If you mean how do I justify that, let's start with that piece first. Very easily, because I don't
think I can do an effective job of mediating between two parties if there isn't some balance there.
So unless I help bring about that balance, mediation won't work. Of course, you can't necessarily
assume that because one side is a minority community that it's the powerless community. That's
another issue. But let's assume that, in fact, there is a power imbalance. Unless I can help balance
that, and empower each party to effectively participate at the mediation table, we're not going to
have an effective, successful mediation. So I explain that to the institution and I offer pre-
mediation training to both sides. I also use that as a way to help each of the parties identify what
their interests and concerns are, and what they hope to get out of this process.
Sometimes, that's particularly important for the institution, because they often start out from the
perspective of, "Okay, how much do they want, and how much of that are we going to give
them?" They rarely think in terms of, "What do we want, and how much of that are we going to
get?" The reality is that they usually do want something from the community, so this helps them
become aware of that. This is another trust-building mechanism as well because I'm
acknowledging that, "You need things too! What is it that you want? What is it that you're
looking for?" I want to make sure that both sides are heard and that we can talk about how each
side's needs can be met. I also let the institution know that it's in their best interests to have a
well-trained, capable party on the other side because it will be easier to deal with and negotiate
with them if they are capable. Part of what the institution is afraid of is that they will have a
group of ranting, raving maniacs on the other side that they can't communicate with.
So part of what I'm providing is some security, some format which is reasonable from their
perspective. I may say to the institution, "Now, you understand that party A is angry and they're
going to need to express that. But trust me, we're going to get beyond that, and get to problem-
solving." So I lay the groundwork for there being some anger. I hate to call it "venting," because
to me "venting" sounds too patronizing. I don't want to be allowed an opportunity to vent; I want
to be allowed an opportunity to be heard. So, even though the term "venting" might apply, I
avoid that word because it does sound patronizing to me. It has undercurrents of, "They're just
spouting off, and they really have nothing to say." In most cases they have a lot to say, but
they've never been allowed to say it and be heard before.
Once both parties understand this process and it's really part of the ground rules or at least the
"ground expectations" that's going to make the process much more effective. If I explain this to
the institution, they'll understand that. They also understand that it's going to take less time to
train a police department to come to the table as a team than it does the community (with a police
department, it's easy, they just look to the chief if the chief says it's okay, it's okay, even
though they're there as a team.) In terms of a community, they require a lot more ground rules, a
lot more preparation, in terms of how they're going to operate at the table.
If there isn't a clear leader, sometimes, I try to split up the leadership role. I try to have different
people on the community team take responsibility for leading negotiations around certain issues,
so that everyone is head-honcho for a while. But doing that, and helping them to identify their
interests and needs, is going to take longer than it does with a police department or a school
district. But the institution recognizes that when they're at the table, their time is going to be
better-spent and there'll be less time wasted if we do it this way. So they're not worried about the
time the fact that I might spend three times as much time with the community as I do with the
institution. They understand that it all helps to lay better groundwork for the process at the table.
The other thing that I have found and at first, I was surprised, but I've gotten now to where I
almost expect it is that when I have those initial meetings with the community, I get a lot of
that venting. I hear a lot of the anger. To some extent, it is almost directed at me. But I know it
isn't really it's just that I happen to be there at the time, and they're saying, "Well, you're an
official, so why can't you fix it?" I can see that there are some very angry, frustrated people there,
and I usually say, "Look, I hear the anger, but I want to make sure that you can express that anger
to the institution and help them understand why you're angry."
Then, when we get to the table, all of that anger has already dissipated to some extent. I can
recall at least one case where I actually called a caucus because the community was so calm, and
said, "Wait a minute. You were chewing my butt yesterday and you were ranting and raving.
What's going on here?" I almost had to remind them of the points that they wanted to bring to the
table. Now that they were actually at the table and communicating that was such a big
achievement already that the rest of their issues almost didn't matter anymore. My concern
wasn't to advocate for the community, but if those issues weren't brought to the table, that would
undermine the effectiveness of any agreement. So I thought it was important for an effective
agreement to make sure that all of that was on the table.
The preparation I did with them was important too. It gave them some confidence at the table
they knew they were prepared, they had an agenda, they knew who was going to cover what, and
they trusted me and the process, at least to some extent. The same was true for the institution:
they knew that I was going to control the process, they trusted me to keep the discussions on
track. That's empowering for both sides. The fact that they really are talking to each other as
equals is very, very important for making that process work.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Did the African-American students have problems in the
community outside of the campus?
When we started meeting with them, they had already developed a listing of issues and
demands. They all related to campus issues. Nothing came up with the local police as an issue.
The campus police, yes, but not with the local police or with merchants or anything like that. It
was all on the campus. U Mass-Amherst is its own city out there.The next day we continued the
process of meeting with the students and getting an understanding of the issues.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
In the meantime, I want to talk about
other things that are taking place here. What is the relationship with the police department, how
is it?" That starts the ball rolling as I try to elicit from them issues, concerns that now, with the
attention given to the shooting, lend themselves to the dynamic of dealing with the problems and
concerns in the relationship between the police and the community.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Yes, Larry Myers and I met with the parties several times to go
over the issues, to insure consensus by the Ohlone People and to confirm the parties agreement to
cooperate and select spokespersons of their respective teams. 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.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
usually meet with the complainant party first, because the institutions often don't know what the
real issues are. They don't know who the complainants are or what they're planning to
do. They often look to CRS in some form to help clarify what's out there. So if I go to the
institution first and meet with them, I don't get that much. If you meet with the complainant, you
get the details of the levels of mistreatment, the full allegations, the level of temperament, the
coalition of organizations. You get a flavor of what the protesting body is about. The
institutions usually very much appreciate understanding all those dynamics. So that's why I
usually go from the complainant side to the institutional side.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Thinking of communities where you go in unknown, as
opposed to those that you know so well after all these years, how do you identify the underlying
issues in a conflict when you intervene?
I'm trying to get a good example of that. I'm sure I made a lot of faux pas on a lot of the
Native American stuff. But you're thrown in. You have BIA to call, and you talk to them over
the phone and you say, let's see if we can come to the table and you get a commitment from both
parties and your land on the reservation. Now you're meeting with them. You have somebody
arranging for one group and somebody arranging for the other group, and you're going in cold.
Usually I'm flying to some place, and then drive forever to some rural reservation. It's not
something where I can go in, warm myself up, and really build a relationship before, and come
back and forth several times to conduct a mediation. It's almost like we've talked on the phone,
and we're ready to go. We're almost there, but I want to meet with you alone first before we
actually try to see if we can get to the table. Maybe not today, but maybe tomorrow, certainly not
more than a day or two. So, I'll sit on the reservation for a couple days and see whether we can
get this thing to move. That's about as cold as I've gotten.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
So we got them together again and the
concerns were bread and butter: "You're beating us up, and you're beating my
kids up. You're not giving us a fair chance." That was a concern. But employment.....
the police department and the rest of the city, aside from token
employment, had no people of color. So that got bigger than just the cops "beating my kid up."
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
and their concerns were the usual ones. No Mexican American
teachers, no coach for their basketball team, they didn't have football. Classrooms were in
extremely poor condition. It was one hundred percent Mexican Americans, so you're just
concerned with the Mexican American school group. In fact, the school district, the city, was
maybe 96% Mexican American, the rest were all white.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
. We developed a report on the shootings of minorities by the LAPD.
This came out of one really egregious shooting in which a black woman was shot
something like 72 times because she was wielding a knife about twelve feet from the police. So
they killed her. Even the Latino Police Commissioner was angry that the cops had done that, and
he was an extremely conservative guy. Of course, the African American member of the
commission was really
Out of that came the development of a Hispanic Advisory Council. We suggested that we'd get
the community together,
and that was fine with them.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
So, what did you do when you realized that there were various
agendas going on? How did you handle that situation? What were you able to do, specifically,
to either address those or diffuse some of those variations?
A lot of the effort was to find the commonality as to what the
groups were seeking. A lot of that. And another one is, as I mentioned to you, even more
difficult was to try to determine why people were actually at the table other than our own CRS
encouragement. One of the things that played a significant role was the response that we were
able to get from the media. Again, on the one side you had thirty some odd minority
organizations, and on the other hand, you had thirty some odd media organizations, most of them
being radio stations at the time. So all of a sudden, there was some equity in numbers. Then all
of a sudden, there appeared to be some equity at the table because of the individuals who came to
the table. They varied from meeting to meeting, but came to the table, brought in a lot of stature,
some previous relationships, some acknowledgment that they indeed represented the community.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
When the Nubians initially came in, did they not want to be part of this community?
No, they came in with the idea that they were going to develop this land that they call East of
Egypt and that it was going to be like a theme park. There would also be residences for people
to live in, as well as a teaching facility and a place for worship services. Many people want to
call it a cult or a group but it's not, and it's not a compound. I'd refer to it as a village, and the
commune wants to term it and describe it as something that's going to result in another Waco or
Ruby Ridge. These people are highly intelligent and I've spent an awful lot of
time there and I've learned so much about some of the things they do. Dr. Urich, Moaki Urich
has a great deal of vision and they have money from their bookstores. Also, they have what they
call they're Zedfest, which runs from June 24th to July 4th and it's a period of eating and
and praying and so forth. One rainy Sunday they had 6,000 people come. They had 300 from
England. They could charter a plane. They had them from all over the world -- Hong Kong,
Japan, all around. They had over 35,000 people
there during the days of the Zedfest. So here's what the city did. This shows you how
calculating and how hypocritical some of these officials are. They went out to the compound, as
they called it, and closed every one of their food centers, where they would sell food. They said
they didn't meet sanitary codes and this and that. Everything. You want to know why? They
want them all to buy food from the local white establishments in Eatonton, Ingalls Department
Store. Ingalls is a food chain here in rural Georgia. That parking lot stayed full. That
delicatessen counter would sell out everyday. All of that and it was done simply to increase the
sales of the local establishment.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
meeting with FMCS people, one of their guys described what they called a "relations by
objectives" approach to dispute resolution. I think it was a fascinating program. I expressed a
lot of interest in it and was able to sit in on one of their sessions, a quite ambitious undertaking
that took a couple of days. It was an in depth approach to trying to deal with problems between
two parties before they reach crisis stage. It was used to address a whole range of ongoing
problems and try to establish relations that would be better for the future. The sessions I
attended were in the Claremont (CA) area, and involved the middle and top managers of a steel
plant, the union guys, the foreman and the works. Actually a whole lot of people are essentially
doing this in one form or another now, but it was new to us at the time. The basic pattern is get
all the folks together, get a lot of technical help, and you break into smaller groups at some point
which are equally representing both sides. You run down all of the problems that anybody sees
and feels and then you ask the questions consecutively on each side. What do you think these
other guys should do about this problem? What do you think you should do about it? Then you
go to the other side and you ask them the same questions.
It was good to start with, and then of course you get this whole list laundry list of problems,
recommendations and so on, and you work your staff like crazy to consolidate something and get
it together and you try to come out with a comprehensive program. Not just a program but time
tables, responsibilities for implementation, the works! Very hard boiled, very realistic.
I encouraged somebody up the line about this-- I think it was Gil Pompa. at some point- to look
this over very carefully and see if it might have usefulness to CRS. At one of our staff meetings
I made a presentation on all this and my pitch for our applying it in special situations. I
suggested that we call it "Joint Problem Solving." It never became a big thing throughout the
agency as a whole, but lo and behold, later on, in this region we did do a substantial job with a
high school using this approach.
We went in and did just that kind of a program. This was a high school with a multi ethnic
student body and with a whole bunch of problems including a deteriorating building. The school
had a very progressive open black principal, a terrific guy, who was willing to accept the help of
an agency like ours. We went in and discussed the whole idea. We had some good sessions
with him. He sat down with us and it was decided, "Yes, let's give this approach a try" with the
students, faculty, parents, administration and counselors at this high school. We took some
pretty careful consideration of how we would do this, but essentially we followed those same
In this case the problem identification was done on a segregated basis. The black students,
Chicano students and so on in the first go around in the first day met together to identify their
problems. Then of course we mixed it up the next day and to ask the questions and so on what
should we do, what should you do. We got some parent involvement-- not quite as good as we
wanted-- but some pretty fair parent involvement and came up with a specific overall program
which presumably the school would go on to implement.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
of the parties agreed to give mediation a try. After each of the parties had said that, we got the
attorneys representing each of the parties together, and sat down, and made up a list of what the
issues were that we were going to address in mediation.
What were some of those issues, just generally?
I'll just take it from the beginning, the recruitment process, which people are recruited. The
allegation was that there was no way to attract minorities, or recruit minorities. Assignments,
the argument was that assignments were made based on who you knew, as opposed to your skill
level, and whites had almost all the good positions even though blacks needed these positions.
Promotions, there were no blacks above the rank of sergeant. blacks were not given the
opportunity to go to outside training. So we got with all the parties, they agreed to it, I then
drafted out the ground rules that were going to guide the mediation and gave those to everybody.
I got a tentative agreement from all of the parties, and then we set the date for the first get
together. It was that first meeting that would be introductory, everybody was going to introduce
themselves to everybody else, go over your ground rules, and get everybody to sign them, as
well as make any changes that are necessary, present the issues and put them on the table. What
we ended up doing was putting them up on paper on the wall. We met at the city hall and
everybody said that was fine. One of the things that was interesting was that all these people had
been together on another occasion in the past, because these were the same groups of people who
negotiated. You could leave the contract in the department, and everybody knew everybody
else. They knew each other real well. Actually Fred and I were the outcasts. The first meeting
when everybody was together, we went over the ground rules, everybody signed off on them, we
went over the issues, and then we decided that we needed to set up a schedule. When we were
going to meet and what the process was going to be like. I explained what the process should
look like. They said fine, we'll go with that. So we instituted a process about how the whole
thing is going to flow and we set up a schedule. Basically the schedule was that we would begin
meeting the following week, we'd start meeting in the afternoon, or late afternoon. We would
go until 9 o'clock or 8 o'clock, something like that. But we could go longer, if there was a
consensus, or if we were on a roll and the mediators said we need to keep going. I'm consistent
about this. The mediator is the final word, on the logistics, on the ground rules-- you know
anything that has to do with the process.
So, they don't have any input into the process?
They can have input, and input was solicited, but the final decision is made by the mediator;
that's just the process. So when a mediator says you're done talking, you're done talking. When
the mediator says they're taking a break okay. I think the first time we sat down, we went 9 days
straight. This thing dragged on for 8 months, now we had 27 issues. My recollection is that we
came together, I think it was Tuesday or Wednesday, it was 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon. It
was the first session. I don't think we ended until 2 o'clock in the morning. We came back
together the next morning at 8 o'clock and we went like this for 7 or 8 days of straight, constant
hammering at this. There were a dozen people around the table and sometimes we went up to 16
to 18 people, and we just kept going on and on.
Was that a good thing, or a usual thing?
I've never allowed mediation to go on like that. We'd get on a role, you know, and not that
we wouldn't necessarily resolve something but they actually got serious about talking about
whatever issue we were dealing with, and I was just lucky to stop it, cause it kept moving, and
nobody said, "hey, let's quit." We took breaks. We'd go eat dinner or something, but they were
just a strange group of people. We had one attorney die on us, about the 4th month into this
thing. He had a heart attack at home one night after the sessions. When we took a break it was
never more than a week and the way the process would work is that we would put on the table
issue x to start with that day. We could move to any issue we wanted to just based on how we
were proceeding on a particular issue but when we were done with that issue we would have a
tentative agreement on that issue. And so we would stop and take a break once we hit an
agreement on that. I would type up the tentative agreement. We would run off copies so that
everybody had their own. We would sit there and read it, and everybody would go through it.
Once they were satisfied with it we would pass it around. We would have five signatures on five
different pieces of paper so that everybody had an original thing and then we'd set that aside. It
was a very definitive kind of process, but when you're dealing with that number of issues and
that number of people it seemed to be the only viable thing. And the funniest part of this whole
thing was we were down to two issues I think, and they weren't even major issues, one of them
had to do with a promotion and I don't remember what the other one was and we had been
going. After these long grueling days people would just start getting nasty with each other and it
was the FOP that said we're not moving on this. This is it. Take this or just trash the whole
thing and we're ready to go to court tomorrow. So then everybody started to position themselves
and it got tense. Freddy and I took a break and we talked about it, and we said forget it.
Yeah, this is Freddy and I. We said, "Forget it. These people
would jerk us around and they think they can jerk us around. We're just going to close the
mediation and go home." So we came back in and we asked them if anybody was prepared to
move off of their position and went around the table and everybody said no. And so I said in
that case we are turning in the mediation. We're going to go to the airport tomorrow because we
were unsuccessful and we're going home. And we turned around and walked out of there. And
the next morning we were both at the airport.
Oh you were actually going to go. I thought this was just a technique you used.
No, we were ticked. We were done. I mean you have to know the history of what went on.
And we were always nice about the whole thing. And we were done. We weren't going to do
anymore. We were serious. We get to the airport and drop off the rental car and here come all
these people running down the hall, wait, wait, wait. We can do this. We can do this. Partly
because they didn't want us to go to the judge and tell them we hadn't done anything because
we're talking almost eight months now we'd been at this. But we'd reached our end and so we
sat down and three days later we had a completed agreement.
Now did the judge give you any time
constraints for mediating the case?
No, no. As long as it takes. See the judge didn't want to deal with it. Today Louisville still
has internal problems. One of the guys that got promoted, a black guy was a real nice guy, but
he got promoted way beyond where he needed to be and the pressures of trying to live up to that
position was difficult. He went from a sergeant to a major overnight. And he thought that was
great until he found out what it was like to be a major. And he didn't have the training. No one
taught this guy how to be a command officer. The city didn't really give this guy any training.
They said if you want to be it, fine you can be it, but we're not going to help you. I mean that
was their position. And he ended up taking an early retirement leave. There was a lot of
nastiness that came out of it and everything, but it was successful.
We're going to get to that part because there's a whole lot more detail that I want you to give
me about that particular case there. Go back to when the judge said okay I want you to mediate
it. Here are the parties. And you told me about the positions of the black officers of the
community. They wanted different hiring procedures and things like that. What was the stance,
or what was the position of the police department? Were they saying absolutely not, or what
were they saying?
The reason that the lawsuit was filed was because the city and the police department simply
said we don't think we're doing anything wrong. The NAACP and the black police officers
organization initially said it, and then they got the NAACP to support them and the Living
Events Fund came in. If it had been just the black police officers and the Logan chapter of the
NAACP and never went beyond that it would have never gone anywhere. It wouldn't have been
mediated. But because they convinced the Living Events Fund to come in they brought their two
lawyers from New York. There was a guy who was very difficult! Even
his own clients wanted to kill him. This guy just had this attitude about him that was very
disruptive to the process because everything he said was right. And he also had this, 'I'm from
New York and I know all about it' attitude. And I don't know if anybody at the table liked him.
That's an interesting factor in mediation. I prefer to do mediation without attorneys but you
can't always do that. They can mess up a situation as opposed to help the parties. They even
had their own clients just really going at the table.
What were some of the conflicts here? Obviously that's an example of internal conflict.
It was almost all attitude. It was that, 'I know what is best for you' and so I'm saying that the
police department has to do "X." And the black police officers we're saying "Well we don't
have to go that far. That's not necessary. We can do this, and that's going to deal with the
problem and that's going to get us where we want to be." And this guy is saying "No, that's not
good enough. This is how it's going to be." Not this is a point for discussion. He was saying
this is how it's going to be or we're going back to court. So we were constantly stopping and
taking caucuses, you know breaking them into four different groups, because of the conflict
between this guy and his own clients, the people from the black police officers organization.
There never was anybody there from the NAACP, the local chapter. It was always the legal
defense from the NAACP representing the black police officers organization. I remember the
mayor's guy said, "look we're just going to leave and give you a piece of paper. You write out
the agreement. We'll sign it in the morning." Just irritating. Everybody just lived with it
through the thing. I mean eventually, I don't know, common sense won out. His clients would
talk to him. His co-counsel was always talking to him. The mediators took him out and we'd
caucus with him and tell him lighten up, lighten up, lighten up because you are going to screw
this thing up. And everybody kept pounding at the guy and eventually just overwhelmed him I
guess or something. You know you just want to kill somebody. And he had that attitude.
So you were telling me what the interest of the law enforcement was.
They said that they had done everything.
The way they assigned people was fair and equitable. They said that they had a good
recruiting program. They couldn't help it that blacks weren't applying. They said that the
reason that there were no blacks above the Sergeant position was because there haven't been any
openings. They had an answer for every item that was raised and were comfortable with that.
So that was their basic response and they tried through the negotiating process with the union to
negotiate a process that they were accustomed to in the unions, but it was all about wages. They
were negotiating the wages for the FOP. All these other issues came about and they thought they
could deal with them the same way they dealt with the money issue and they couldn't. And
that's when the lawsuit was filed. That's when the NAACP and the legal defense came into the
picture and then it became a formalized structure kind of process. I don't think they'd gotten
into discovery yet so this was brand new when the judge wanted to refer it to us. And there's an
advantage to that because at least they hadn't really had an opportunity to sit down and clarify
positions on the lawsuit.
Did either of the parties, or any of the
involved ever ask you to do things that you were just unable to do and how do you handle such a
They would try and I really can't think of anything specific but obviously they would try to
get you to do things. The way that I deal with that is through establishing the ground rules and
the working relationship that's going to occur between the mediators and the parties. In that
process I make sure that the ground rules (without being over-burdensome) are clear and
definitive as to roles. And I let it be known that that's it. Don't ask me to do something that
isn't on this page, you know that kind of thing. Here's my role and I'm very clear. One of the
things that I think is actually critical to mediation is that the parties know exactly how their
mediator views mediation and how he runs the process, and where the start and stop points are.
I'm real adamant about that. Because I communicate that up front clearly and we put most of it
on paper and they sign it, usually there's not a problem. It doesn't come up very often that they
ask me to do something that isn't on the paper.
So you come to the table with that in mind and say hey you're signing off on this process
we're done with that.
We've set the ground rules-- that's it.
Could you give us an idea of what the basic ground rules are? How would you characterize
I know this sounds really simplistic or at least to me it sounds simplistic, but it's important.
For example, one person speaks at a time. You know that sounds real childish but that's
important. So you put a couple of those in and then if there's anything that's specific to that
particular case that you think is important. I try not to overwhelm them. I never have more than
a page. Never. And that includes an explanation and that's the whole document. I guess aside
from the common sense stuff, I put in there that everything is tentative pending the whole
package. Or in some instances they've got to go to somebody else, or you know, maybe to
another organization to get them to say yeah that's good we'll go with that. So you put that in
there. I always put in that the mediator has the final words to the process. Those are the kinds of
things, I mean they're really common sense basic kinds of things, just like maybe 4, 5, or 6
specific items that's it. But everybody has to sign it. You go over it before we sign it and make
sure everybody is clear on it.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
what the issues were.
Something like the Klan wanted the Vietnamese to get out of
town. Essentially that they should leave or they should limit
the number of boats on the water.
How did the Vietnamese respond?
They of course said, "We can't do that." It would've been
illegal because as long as they meet the state and federal
requirements, it's a legal activity. Both sides agreed that
shrimping was a resource, and shrimp were like a bank account,
they all believed that they should not over shrimp. Putting it in
terms of a bank account, you could withdraw the interest every
month, but not touch the principle. Both sides agreed that
they needed to be careful about conserving the principle amount of
the shrimp and not over shrimp because there wouldn't be anything
for anybody to harvest.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
What process did you use to identify the underlying issues in the
The funniest thing about working in this sphere: You really don't take a lot of steps, you just
know. You make judgments based upon what you know to be so, and then you go around
meeting with people. They tell you, "Oh, so-and-so over there is out for personal
aggrandizement." He may be, he may not be, that doesn't really matter now. What matters is
the position of the city, and how I would want to address that. You see them, you identify
them in your mind, as long as they're not causing that much of a problem, you go ahead and do
something about it.
As long as the underlying issues are not causing a problem. We're speaking about
Memphis. The issues that you found very prevalent and important were they the same issues
that groups considered important?
Quite often they were. For example, after
Martin was killed, Baird Rustin....do you know who I'm talking
about? Baird Rustin came down to organize that peaceful march that Martin had come back to
Memphis to do, but was killed before he could. Baird was a great master of demonstrations.
He's the person who organized the march on Washington. He was a great tactician, so Baird
Rustin came down and took charge of organizing the next march. When Baird walked the
route of the march, he said, "Oh no, we can't march that way." Number one: They had a court
order to deal with, because the city went into court and tried to get an injunction against him in
They didn't get the injunction, but they got a bunch of restrictions on the march. One is they
could only use one half of the street; another one was that the march had to take place between
ten and two; another one was the route of the march. When Baird had walked the route, he
was that much of a tactician. Most folk would mark from here to here; he would walk it and
see what the hindrances and encumbering things would be and he said, "Going that way, we
have to pass two buildings in demolition and one building in construction. We don't want
young people to be tempted to pick up rocks and bricks to throw. We don't even want to go
that way, we want to go another way." But the court order was to go that way.
And then the other was a problem too. Do you know how long it would take to process ten
thousand people, marching four or five abreast? We couldn't even go downtown and get back
within the four-hour span of the court order. So the court order needed to be changed. So then
they turned to me as the mediator, and Baird said, "Mr. Sutton, somebody's got to go before the
judge, and tell him what the encumbering things are as they relate to a peaceful march."
Under usual circumstances, an attorney would go down and make that appeal, but that takes
too long. The attorney would have to make a brief, and the judge would have to study the
brief, and then come up with an answer. He said, "That would take three or four days, and we
don't have that. Would you go down and just talk to the judge, man-to-man about this
situation?" I agreed to do it, so the next morning, when the Justice Department agencies got
together, as we did everyday, CRS, CRD (Civil Rights Division), U.S. Attorney, and F.B.I., all
got together the next morning. I reported this to them. So the guy from the Civil Rights
Division jumped up and said, "You can't do that!" I said, "What do you mean I can't do that?"
He said, "The Justice Department can't be in the position of asking a judge to change his
order." I said, "With the exception of the F.B.I., the rest of you are attorneys and I can
understand your great fear of the judge. But a mediator does not have that kind of fear, at least
this one does not, and I shall go." He said, "I'm the highest ranking member of the Department
of Justice here, and I direct you not to go." I said, "You're getting things mixed up." He said,
"What's that?" "You are the highest ranking person from the Civil Rights Division, I'm the
highest ranking person from the Community Relations Service, and I promise you that the
Community Relations Service would not tell the Civil Rights Division what to do, and the
Civil Rights Division will not tell the Community Relations Service what to do. There are
only two people telling me what to do and that's Roger Wilkins, Director of the agency, and
the Attorney General himself. He said, "I shall call the attorney general." I said, "Call
whoever you want to call."
I left the meeting to go to meet with the judge, but on the way to meet with the judge, I called
Roger. I said, "Roger" and he said, "Hey, Ozell, how's it going?" I said, "I say to you," and
I'm always doing this, "you remember the scripture about how the lady said, I will go and see
the king and if I perish, I perish?" I told Roger what I was about to do. I told him I was
greatly upset at the Civil Rights Division, that he would probably hear about that, but that, "the
only thing I need to know, is whether that disturbs you or not, Roger." Roger said, "Ozell, if
you think that's what ought to be done, then you do that." That's the way Roger was. "You are
a seasoned mediator, one of the best we have, so you go ahead and see the judge." I went to
see the judge, and the judge received me, very politely, and I explained to him, I said, "Judge,
marching four or five abreast, it would take more than five hours to process ten thousand
people. Had you considered that?" He said, "The city does not want them to take the whole
street." I said, "Judge, you know what that is. When the American Legion comes here, it takes
the whole street. When the Shriners come here, they take the whole street. And they don't
even get a permit. They just go out there and start marching. I used to be a commander of a
protest group and when we came into town, we just went out there and start marching. We took
the whole street and nobody said a word to us. This is selective law enforcement, which we
cannot do in this situation. The city would not drive for three hours and they're going to need
the whole street to do that, even for the city's sake they need the whole street." The judge
Then I told him about the difficulty that they didn't want to march down that street, unlike it
was in the other march. "Even the signs are not going to be on sticks; they're going to be on
strings hanging on their necks, they're trying hard. We've got to help them." He agreed. He
agreed to all that I asked him to do.
When I came back and told Baird and the ministers and all the leadership, (they met every
morning), that the route had been changed and that the judge had agreed, they were satisfied. I
met with the Justice Department officials. This guy who was daring me to do something, he
said, "You know, Ozell, you are a peculiar guy." I said, "There's nothing peculiar about me." I
did that as a fun thing. He said, "You have a lot of audacity." I said, "I'm audacious. I'm more
than audacious, I am bodacious." Bodacious is being brave and audacious.
I've been out here a long time, and sometimes you have to take a risk, even with yourself. If the
issue's big enough, you even risk your own self and your own career. I'm not out here playing,
and what they said made sense to me. And I didn't have any reason to fear the judge. I'm just
a laborer, I'm not a member of the court system. Judges are human beings, and I wanted to talk
to the judge not in legal terms, but in practical terms.
It sounded like you took the interest of the parties.
And the interest of the city, which is what a mediator would do?
You mesh them. Even thought that wasn't what the city wanted done, as soon as I had done
that and left the judge's office, I went over and met with the mayor and his chief of police and
I said, "This is what it's going to be like. As negotiated by me. I would hope that it would
meet with your understanding and your will, but this is the way it is. Everybody wants to
know why they need a position like mine to go ahead and do something, and I did it." And the
mayor looked up and said, "Well, Mr. Sutton, we have been accustomed to your moving on
what you think ought to be done. Whether we like it or not, that's the way it is."
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Okay. How did you go about identifying the underlying dispute
in a conflict?
Again, the assessment would do that. It depends on what the intervener wants seen. So,
again, from my perch as the Associate Director, I’m getting a field report, and I see how the
conflict is defined, then I see how the intervener has decided to array the issues for intervention,
and where he or she has decided to intervene. And my comment is, "That’s not what the conflict
is about. Here’s the conflict; how come you’re not intervening in that?” So it’s in the eye of
the beholder. For those people who were aligned with the notion of deep-rooted conflict and the
understanding of the need to be involved in underlying issues, that’s what they would find.
Others wouldn’t see that. Classic Shakespeare.....(laughter).... All I see are these trees!”
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Each was making up their laundry list of the things they wanted to
bring up at the table.
That translated into their interests?
These were their interests, and they covered the waterfront. They
were very serious ones, primarily from the racial minorities, related to disciplinary actions.
That seemed to be racially oriented?
Yes. Everyone agreed there was a disproportionately large number of blacks going to
detention, there was no question about it. Guards said it was because of the way people behave,
blacks said it was because of racism. This had to be addressed. Issues went all the
way down to whether inmates should have rugs in their cells. Also, whether television sets,
which had to arrive in a new box, could come from a repair shop, where drugs or other
contraband might be smuggled in with it. Censorship of the inmate newspaper. Visiting times
and places. Food, Canteen issues. Scores of items found their way onto the agenda.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Changing gears, going back to the
assessment phase, how do you go about identifying what issues are key? Is this something that
you leave to the parties, or is this something that the mediator will play a strong role in doing?
Well, it’s politically correct to say you leave it to the parties to define the issues, and in fact
you do. But you see things. You’re traveling around, and when you get to Evansville or Xenia
or Springfield, you’ve seen the situation in other places and you hear certain things, and all of
that directs your questions to certain points. The state of the group, how serious the violations
are, what kind of sources of support they have, all these factors tend to alert you. That doesn’t
mean that an individual without an organization can’t bring about great change. I mean, I told
you about this community worker who wasn’t even from Battle Creek, who was bringing about
major change at a small community college but that’s the exception. So during your
assessment, you look for certain things: what resources are in the community, how supportive are
they? Things that would key in the mediator in doing the assessment, and making it more
efficient to determine whether or not mediation or further intervention would have significant
results. So yes, the parties would define the issues, but sometimes you would point out other
issues that were important to them, that they just hadn’t really thought about in the context of
this particular problem. A jail suicide is what they’re complaining about, but there may be
underlying issues in police/community relations that led up to this. "Why don’t you believe
them when they tell you this was a suicide?” There’s a lack of trust. So what engendered that
lack of trust are the issues you may want to look at.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
One of the things that became
obvious was that the minority population was diminishing. What was the cause of that decrease
and it turned out to be lack of support from faculty, but also lack of support from other students.
The student government process had pretty much excluded minorities from it. So there wasn't
any place to be and you were very much a minority.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Well, once again going back to the University, tell me
about the dynamics at the table?
I was the facilitator. They each had an opportunity to express their opinions about what we
needed to be dealing with, as far as bringing the issues out to the table, and then validating that
with everybody, because we couldn't deal with everything. Prioritizing those issues and building
a consensus around the table about what issues we were going to deal with, so from the very
beginning I was teaching them what I do. The next time an issue came up, they had been through
the process and I had basically facilitated, but coached and modeled that behavior as we went
along. The main thing is keeping the environment safe for everybody, so that nobody was
diminished and that was always one of my ground rules. They were obviously able to create
other ground rules that they felt like were important once we validated the issues and began
hammering out responses to it. In terms of faculty, one of the responses was that the
research division was going to do a statistical analysis of grading practices and that was going to
become a matter of record. There was an ongoing task force that established its membership.
They identified how the members would be selected each time, and how complaints would be
channeled into that. For example one of the biggest concerns the students had was, "I'm the only
minority student in that classroom, how can I possibly file a complaint that my teacher has
control of my grades?" So they built in some safeguards for them. The same thing went for any
kind of complaint in housing. Building in safeguards, we developed a brochure about race
relations and anti-discrimination policy and procedure on campus. The fraternal system was
looked at and the whole process for evaluating their documents that they have to have on
campus, organizing documents or whatever they have. A process was put into place to review
and look at that for complaints and charters. There were some specific steps for the student
government to bring in minorities into representation under the student government. More
multi-ethnic activities were generated out of that.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
You mentioned at one point that the issues that you thought were
the critical issues often turned out not to be. How did you decide what was and what wasn't
The parties decided. That was always the surprise. The incident with the school is a good
example. As much as it turns your stomach, the kids didn't do any direct harm to anyone with
that fraternity party. What came down to be more important to those minority students was the
fact that they weren't getting a fair chance at a fair education. If we had only addressed the frat
party, we would never have gotten to the real problems that they were having. I had no idea
going in and came out knowing that we created an environment for them to feel safe.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Can you give us the general interests of each party?
Yes. Employment by the company was an issue. What vendors or contractors they use, to the extent to which minorities were included in that? They also had branches elsewhere, and to what extent were those managed by minorities? Those were some of the issues that come immediately to mind. With the company itself they didn't want to lose control. They focused on quality assurance. They focused on what precedents might be set and, particularly, keeping in mind that there was another negotiation going on at the same time, there was some question of not making commitments that they would not be able to keep over the long term.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
What were you doing there while you were on-site?
We were mostly looking for what was creating tensions in the building, looking at what kind of training we could do for staff in the school on such things as dealing with a diverse student body. Since integration had just started, they hadn't had to deal with diversity before, so they needed to do some contingency planning. They needed to consider what was the relationship between say, the school and the police. We also talked with staff and students about their concerns within the building regarding diversity issues. We tried to develop ways of responding to the concerns and resolving some of those problems that would diffuse tension and create a healthy educational setting.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Let's talk about identifying the
issues and the conflict. You said last time you basically talked
to everybody and asked them what's going on I imagine that you
sometimes get a superficial answer and then there's a need to dig
deeper to get more of the underlying issues. How do you go about doing that?
Just through questions, discussions, and asking them what is
important to them. What is really important. People say we want
justice, but doesn't everybody want justice? They said they're
engaging in that activity because they want justice. So what
I've done several times is kind of turn that around and instead
of talking about justice, talk about injustice. So, say there
was a police situation with a community. What is unjust that
they're doing? Well they used excessive force, that's unjust.
They're not hiring enough minorities, that's unjust. They are
ticketing us more than others, that's injustice to them. Let's
say we have five categories or five issues that define the
injustice, so if you take care of all those and you come to an
understanding or there's progress made on those five, then they
And you do this by asking questions, I gather....?
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Now going back to this case, how did you identify what all the
issues would be?
I didn't really identify the issues, the assessment identified the problem areas within the
department. Now the issue for the community was that they wanted more Chicano officers,
number one. The other issue was the family should file suit. The other issue that surfaced was
also in the report, that evidently the officers don't know how to treat Chicanos, so therefore they
ought to have a better training program or a human relations program, something on that order.
They may not have identified a human relations program exactly, but they said "better
treatment" and "better treatment" means better training and better human relation contact, better
communications with the people. Those were the things that were foremost in their minds.
Especially recruitment. That needed to happen quickly, because new officers take time to train.
They have to go to the academy before they go out on the street. They felt that if they could
begin the process soon, they knew that eventually they'd have somebody there. And then
perhaps that officer would treat them a little bit differently than the other officers that were not
Hispanic. But you and I know that's not always the case. You can have Hispanic officers that
are bad people. But hopefully, these officers will be a little more considerate as he does his job.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
For example. One side maybe talking about, "You know chief, we
had adequate garbage collection on my side of town in twenty five years. You know, we moved
area because you all didn't want us to go back on the reservation." This is actual dialogue, I'm
right now. This is actual dialogue. "You all had this committee back in 1945 that came over
here and met
with us about not going back to the reservation. And then you build these housing projects up
here for us,
and you don't finish putting in the sewage." True story. "And the garbage trucks don't come up
Maybe once a month. Whereas down in Platteville down there, the garbage trucks are coming in
week. So what do we do? Don't you think we should have garbage collection just as regular as
folks in Platteville? And the chief said, "Let me talk to the city mangers. I'll get back to you all
And then the next thing you know, the chief took the lead in this situation. He responded by
"You're darn right. You need a garbage collector." This is the Indian town. I've driven to the
and saw all that garbage on Monday morning. "Darn right. I think you've got a point." Next
know, they're getting garbage picked up on Mondays. It didn't mean that good citizens came
side, there were good citizens on both sides. So that's a real something that's no longer a tension
breeder, to go out and see filthy garbage on the sidewalk.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
Success is one thing. If you’re
looking at it from the standpoint of a proactive or more proactive response, where you’re using
a more longitudinal form of conciliation or perhaps even mediation, the success is defined
differently. Let me give you an example -- this is kind of a composite example, and I’ve used
this often-times in talks. So you have Amarillo, Texas....CRS gets -- this is in the old days, but
CRS gets what was called an "alert” that there was a conflict between Mexican Americans and
police outside a high school in Amarillo, Texas; there were some injuries, some arrests, but no
deaths. CRS gets called in to intervene. In the old, fire-fighting conciliation days, what CRS
would do is to try to work out some kind of an agreement -- a contingency-based agreement
between law enforcement and the demonstration leaders or community leaders over the
demonstration. So, CRS would say, "Okay, police department, would you accept self-enforcing
marshals?” and they go, "Sure, okay.” "Okay, you don’t want demonstrations to take place right
on the school grounds; could you agree to demonstrate three blocks away?” If you get a response
of consent, then you leave. If you got that agreement, that was a successful outcome. Then you
find out that tensions resumed a short time later. You go back in, and you say, "What happened?
We thought we worked out an agreement.” Well, that wasn’t the issue. What was the issue?
The reason why they were demonstrating? It’s because a school principle expelled two Latino
students for speaking Spanish on school grounds, which up until -- in some states, in some
locales – the mid ‘80s, you couldn’t do. It was against the law to speak Spanish on school
grounds. So, you go back in and you discover, well, the cause of the conflict was the expelling of
these two Latino students, so now this is a different kind of issue. So is success simply reaching
an agreement on how people can demonstrate? No, it’s no longer sufficient as a measurement of
success. So now success looks like something else. So success looks like, maybe getting the two
students readmitted. Could you stop there? You could, but let’s dig a little deeper. If you were
doing this on a fuller basis of mediation -- on a much more proactive basis -- then your going
through stages of reaction to more proactive stances. And so the more you move along that
continuum, your measurements of success change along with that movement. And now you’re
saying, "Okay, can we get school boards and Latino leadership in a negotiation around school
policy, and get an agreement on the outcome about school policy?” Now that’s a different
measurement of success. That little story, in many ways, speaks to the evolution that CRS went
through. Except for there wasn’t a perfect evolution, because there were people in CRS who
wanted to make the change and the transition to a much more deeply-rooted, longitudinal kind of
intervention, and there were other people who were very much wedded to the reactive model and
wouldn’t change. So you had this kind of schism within CRS, largely and to a certain extent
abetted by the demands from Congress that we show numbers -- well you can show numbers
better reactively than you can proactively......
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
So what were the issues?
Well, the American Indian Movement had an agenda. It ranged from recognizing Wounded
Knee as a historic site, to going to Washington to renegotiate the treaties, to have Congress
address the issue. They wanted to have the white House meet with them and talk about these
issues. And they wanted the government to investigate the civil rights violations under
Wilson’s regime. There were subsequent negotiating sessions, mostly in the meeting house in
Now they set the agendas themselves and ran the meeting themselves?
Sure, the fed's agenda was, "Get out of here. Give up," with the threat of force at all times.
So yes, they went back and forth in the discussion.
[Full Interview] [Topic Top]
talked yesterday about the theory we developed, based on talks with a lot of people, about what
we call intractable or resolution-resistant conflicts. We came to the conclusion that conflicts
were more resolution resistant if they involved very high stakes and distributional kinds of
questions. They were also more resistant if they involved fundamental moral differences, or
what we call domination conflicts, pecking order conflicts, or identity conflicts. All of these tend
to be involved in race issues. I threw this out at you yesterday, and you said that the factor we
hadn't been thinking about was the need for relationship. If there was a need for relationship
between people, then they would be willing to negotiate on those things. Are there other factors
we're not thinking about?
Another factor is the party’s or the individual's ability to look
beyond their current power position. If they can't perceive themselves in an honorable way,
beyond this entrenched position, then the issue's not negotiable. That's why I always ask, "What
is in your interest?" If I can't help them identify an interest that serves their needs beyond this
entrenched position, it won't work. I can explain to them, "You have the power to direct
authoritarian decision making on this plan, but what is it getting you? What might happen if
you're willing to move in a different direction? Is it worth that?" If they say it's not worth that,
then I'll tell these people what to do. If they don't do that, they're out of here, they're not going to
negotiate. Again, at that point, I'm not looking for them to understand the other party's interest.
I'm looking for something to catch their interest. So if they're so entrenched that they can't see
hope of personal interest served -- beyond this entrenched position -- they're not going to move
out of it. That's when I would say, "Call me."
You mean if they change their mind?
Yes. I think one of my propensities was to keep moving beyond
their real interest. They would have to be really overt to me and say, "Go away." As long as they
just danced around it and kept the door open, I just kept moving forward. Generally that worked
out, although sometimes they slammed the door. I think that's one of the skills of the mediator,
to understand whether or not it's mediatable. If you can’t help that party see beyond the
entrenched position, then it's not going to be mediated. I use it in the 40 hour mediation class.
For example, one of the barriers may be authority. It's a big rock. Here's the mediator, they're
the fulcrum underneath this lever. As the mediator, I'm trying to get this party off of its
entrenched position in order to see the benefits of the mediation. If I can't come up with
something to put on the other side, then it won't level out and it's not going to work.
So the mediator is looking for a leverage point to move people out of their entrenched
position, to get them to consider a negotiation. In family situations, children are often the point.
Sometimes it's money. "How many resources are you going to use supporting that intrenched
position? Are you willing to consider another option?" So you've got to find that leverage point.
If you can't find it, and I don't say many things absolutely, but that's where you would have an
intractable conflict. If they had found that point already, they wouldn't be there. So, all your
incredible skills have to involve helping find that leverage point. It's either going to be a
common interest or a personal interest. A common interest gives you the possibility of a richer
mediation. A personal interest can at least get you to the table and create some sort of
contractual relationship to the conflict. If you can get them toward a common interest, that's
where the payoff is. That's when I try and transform those relationships by the process. But
sometimes the best you can do, because of personal interest, is to get to some contractual
relationship. It's better than nothing.
Abortion is another example I use. With the abortion issue, there is no common leverage
for either side to move off that intrenched position. You're wasting your time. The best you can
do is work with the majority of people who are in the middle and try to bring reason to the
extremes. That's what has happened in these big international affairs, like Kosovo. They don't
have a middle. In Ireland, there's become this middle group who says these intrenched positions
are killing us. That's where you need to start focusing your energy, is in that middle group, in
helping and nurturing and supporting. Then the light's on, and these two intrenched positions are
no longer acceptable and the community often has to move on beyond them. They'll still be
agitating back here, but the group as a whole has been able to create some life to move forward.