Did you have effective techniques for persuading a party to reframe the problem to make it negotiable?


Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

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.

Question:
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?

Answer:
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.

Question:
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?

Answer:
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.

Question:
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 schools?

Answer:
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! It's great!




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So part of the mindset that I find is important to engender is, "You know that it doesn't matter who's fault it is, it's a problem in your community, and unless you get together to fix it, regardless of whose fault it is, it's going to get worse. So it's my fault, blame it on me I should have been here, it's all my fault, I accept the responsibility. Now that we know it's my fault, what are you going to do about it?" Because that's really what we need to get to what they're going to do about it, not who's to blame for it. It involves shifting the focus of what we are really concentrating on. I'm not trying to minimize the need for accountability and acknowledging responsibility; that's obviously a part of it. But I do think that sometimes the focus on trying to decide who's fault it is, is just a cop-out and a way of removing yourself from dealing with the issue. Because if it's not my fault, I don't have to deal with it.



Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Putting it another way, I think it's important to not allow the parties to frame the issue. Because part of what you as a mediator bring to the table is helping the parties to view the entire setting from a different perspective. The only mediator joke I know is, "How many mediators does it take to hang a picture? Answer: They don't hang them, they reframe them!" So that reframing the way the parties frame the issues is already laden with bias. So the important thing that you need to do is to reframe those issues in a way that allows the parties to resolve the problem. You need to address what their initial concerns are, but those concerns need to be framed in a way that will have both parties equally willing and even enthusiastic about resolving those problems. There is no way that's going to happen if you use the issues the way the parties frame them. A couple of examples: We talked earlier about the community talking about the racist superintendent. If the community were to frame the issue, it would be "eliminating racism in the school district". Well, the school district isn't going to have any enthusiasm for participating in that kind of conversation. And you would have to get beyond whether or not there is racism. So whether there is or there isn't, you've got the problems which get in the way of the two parties even talking about that. So if you make "whether or not there's racism" the issue, you're never going to get agreement. You are going to get an agreement that they need effective staff, and if you can get an agreement on that, then you can probably get agreement on the staff being able to deal with people of diverse backgrounds. And maybe one way of getting staff that deals with diverse backgrounds is to get staff of diverse backgrounds. Now you're really reaching out there. And there you can reach that kind of consensus. If you try to focus on whether or not there's racism, you're not going to get it. Same thing with sovereignty if you try to make sovereignty on the reservation or near the reservation the issue, then you're not going to get anywhere. Both parties are going to dig in their heels and stand right there, because they both feel obligated to not give any ground. But if you frame it, not in terms of who's got sovereignty, but in terms of, "How can we provide effective law enforcement, or effective education, or stewardship over our natural resources?" you're going to find a lot of agreement there. And once you've reached agreement there, then sovereignty doesn't remain the issue anymore. Sovereignty is a tool that you can use to bring about certain outcomes or to solve certain problems. Sovereignty itself is not the issue. So you need to get people to think not about, "How can I maintain my sovereignty?" but rather, "What is this that I'm trying to accomplish, and how can I do that? What are the various options for obtaining that? I'm thirsty, so where can I get a beverage?" Getting the orange is one way, but there are other beverages out there too. So, that's part of the contribution that the mediator makes to that process. But unless the mediator plays a major role in framing those issues rather than letting the parties frame them, you're going to run into a road block that shouldn't be there.





Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Is there anything else that you try to do in the initial meeting besides finding out what their view of the issue is?

Answer:
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 problem?" 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 another racist?" "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 minority staff." 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 white kids." "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.




Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

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.

Question:
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.

Answer:
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 struggle was. 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.

Question:
Have you seen acknowledgment of a group's identity as important in other cases as well, or the value of a group's identity?

Answer:
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.




Stephen Thom


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Okay, when I do a typical excessive-use-of-force case, where somebody's been killed, and there's some level of shock, I always talk to them about, "Let's look at where we are. When the incident occurred, you went through shock. Then you go through denial, certainly you wished it didn't happen and you want it to go away. But then you get to the point of anger, disappointment. And then you begin to get to the point of blame and you start blaming sometimes yourself and others, who's at fault? You can either stay there -- some people stay there for a long time -- that blame period is what I consider the marching period, when groups go marching and demonstrating and are venting anger. Later you reach a point of acceptance. You accept that it took place: "I know it took place, but how do I deal with it?" Then you can go to resolution and reconciliation. So, when you explain to people what the process is and they can find themselves, and I usually say, "Look, you may want to demonstrate. You may want to march, and we can do that as long as you want to and we'll work with you on that. But until you get to some type of resolution, when you're going to stop and really work through the issues, you're not going to be able to put this behind you." This is how I try to give them a sequence and a picture of a process. I do this for other kinds of cases as well as. The parties have the option, whether to pursue a civil suit or mediation, or to continuing to march, but "here's where you are, here's the options that you have, and this is what I am offering you. You can proceed with all your legal options, you'll need to get a lawyer, you'll need to file a suit, you'll need to see what you can find pro bona, you can file a complaint, you can go through EEO; every scenario of any kind of complaint has a number of options and I want you to be in control, and I want you to understand what I can offer you as a federal mediator."

Question:
People have the patience to listen to this if they're angry or enraged?

Answer:
By the time I get to the meetings with people, the anger is there, but they want to know what their options are. They're interested in that. Their anger needs to get focused on something constructive at some point, and I think they realize that. I think they appreciate it if you can give them that big picture. That's the way I approach a lot of cases.






Angel Alderete


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

At one point, we used the old trick: "Alright, you don't want to come to an agreement? We'll see you guys." So we walked out and closed the door. Then, as we were getting ready to go tell the warden that we didn't get anywhere today, one of the sergeants come out and said, "Hey, they want to talk to you."



Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

How were you able to get the parties to trust you or to buy into your process, what were the special techniques you used?

Answer:
Starting cold, if I came in here, I'd have gone into your office, I would have looked at what you have around you cause that's important to you. If you have pictures of your family, I'd ask you about your kids and I'd tell you about my kids. I'd tell you where I've been and what I've done lately. The town, I'd tell you about the temperature of the town. And there's always something there. Try to find that.

Question:
And what did you [unknown]?

Answer:
Because it's so hot down there, it takes certain fortitude and strength to be out there on a boat eight hours a day, the sun beating on you and the boat rocking all the time. So what I did the first time I went there, I went to the dock I just sat there for two hours, to try to understand what makes a person be here, when they could be doing some other job. I just asked them why. I showed an interest in their situation, in their lives. It's just human interaction. We're all human beings, so they see my humanity and I see their humanity. Now we can work. I can't just go up and say, "Hey, I'm from the government and I'm here to help you," you know that old line. When you walk into a sheriff's office let's say, you walk differently. Wear my other boots, the ones that make a sound, they're more like semi cowboy boots, wear my suit, pinstripe probably, blue tie, walk in there like you belong. Take a different position, ask some tough questions, but in a very friendly manner, and at some point they'll know you're not there to investigate them. You're not there to prosecute them, you're not there to do them harm so that they have to watch out and look out and be careful what they tell you. The more comfortable they feel with you, the more they'll tell you. That's the only way to help them because you have to understand their reality. Their reality from their point of view. That's the only way you can understand them, to try to help them resolve their own problems.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

The police had called me in on that and I went to the apartment manager. I had to convince her that maybe I could help her, but we first needed to do something. I said, "Give me five residents who care about the whole conflict. We're not going to ask them to do anything, just come to one meeting. One step at a time." Although the minister said we have to get all the Mexicans out, that won't allow us to get rid of the gangs here and the violence. This is how I finally describe it to them - the ministers, the police, everybody. "Let's say that together we decide to take one step, so now we're over here. We'll look at each other, see that we're still standing up, and we'll consult again on taking the next step. Then we'll check each other again, and then take another step. After a few meetings, they realized that they could trust each other and that they could be effective if they worked together (police, residents, ministers, management and community leaders). Further violence was averted. The management later asked if I could help them in another apartment complex.



Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

So one of the things that we did is to start off in very general terms talking about their hopes and priorities and expectations for the community. We would ask them what a fair agreement, in broad terms, would look like to them. As we discussed that, there was the beginning of seeing that there is some agreement here. We may have very different approaches, but there are some common denominators there. We didn't call it "fairness" at that time, but that's really what we were talking about. If we are talking about a fair system, that would include the principles that everyone agrees to. But I really do think that a mediator is going to get into trouble if they try to control whether or not an agreement is fair. On the other hand, I do think that a mediator has some responsibility to not allow a party to negotiate away basic civil rights.





Silke Hansen


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

How instrumental were you as a CRS worker in developing those interests and directing both sides to maybe show the data or show that good faith was there?

Answer:
Of course I want to say it wouldn't have happened without us. I think we were instrumental. I think that some people see facilitators as just sort of being there and making it happen. After a while, I think you almost unconsciously help frame it in terms of making sure that both sides see what the significance is. You make sure that both sides take out the significance of the information that they were getting from the other side and understand why that information was being presented. I think that's what is often missed.






Edward Howden


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Did you have to employ any persuasion techniques in order to facilitate this whole process?

Answer:
Persuasion, persistence, and patience are the name of the game. But also I would say technical assistance was important. Technical assistance to the tribe and helping them when it appeared that some kind of letter from the tribe to the town would be essential to make the next step, I would assist if they wanted me to, and they did.




Efrain Martinez


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

I asked the mayor five or six times throughout the weeks and he just wouldn't do it, finally he says, "Let's do it." We went to his house and he called all these people and I said, "Give me the fifteen people that run this town." So he had fifteen or twenty people and we discussed what they thought of this.



Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Well how did you get the police to change their ways?

Answer:
Well, sometimes you do and sometimes you don't. It's a gradual process. You go way out of your way. For example, I'm as much responsible for the establishment of NOBPE -- the National Organization of Black Police Executives -- as anyone. It is big now, and a powerful force. I came up with the notion that if we were going to change the police actions, we needed to get more blacks in police forces across the South. I can come up with more notions than anybody else. I'm the kind of person who moves to act on my notions, too. So I got with Lee Brown, who is now a mayor, but when I first met him, he was head of the Department of Criminology at Howard University. He wasn't even in policing, but he was the first black to receive a doctorate in Criminology. Dr. Lee Brown, I've forgotten where he came from--University of Chicago maybe? Anyway, he was head of the Department of Criminology at Howard. He came down here and I said "Lee, we have got to find a way to get more blacks into high rank in the Police Department where the decisions are made. Not where they are carried out, but where they are made." So we got together, and we decided to invite the few high-ranking blacks there to Atlanta to have this discussion. We wanted to figure out what could be done, just like we did with the Civil Rights Act way back in '62 and '63. We came here to just sort of run through our minds what could be done. We brought them here on a citizen letter from me. See, I already have that power. I can invite a non- employee to come to a certain place to perform a government function at this agency. So we invited twenty-five of them from across the country, all whom were paid by me. I was bold and audacious and got away with a lot of things. I am the kind of person who believes that if you ask you permission to do something, you invite a turn down right? If you go ahead and do it, then the worst thing that happens to you is a slap on the hand. So I take a slap on the hand I just go ahead and do it. Then you tell me, as my boss, I should not have done that, and I just smile and say, "Yeah, you're right." But it's done. But I knew if I'd asked you would've said "no." So anyway, they were brought here and we discussed what could be done, and that was the beginning of NOBPE. They weren't organized at that time, but the seed was planted.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Answer:
What they have, and this is what they have in the mediation all the time, is fear and knowledge. They knew what has happened here, and what has happened there. They knew what had happened across the country. Knowledge is a powerful thing. Then you can persuade by simple knowledge that you don't want this to happen here. Look what happened in L.A. Look what happened in here. This is why it happened. We talk about how to prevent this kind of thing. I was in Los Angeles during the riot. I was in charge of operation in L.A. during the Rodney King crisis. I was right there the same night that the crisis occurred. When I start to sit down with police, I have credibility. I feel that a couple of us were responsible for the federal government bringing civil rights charges against the officer in L.A. who beat Rodney King. If you remember correctly in L.A., they were exonerated on state charges and freed and that's when the blacks went wild. They didn't go wild when Rodney was beaten. They went wild when the courts freed the police officer. I'll talk about that. I said when the courts refuse to function and when the court order of justice broke down and they didn't receive justice, that's when they went wild. They waited after Rodney King was beaten to see what the justice system would do. When it did nothing, they decided to take it in their own hands. So that's what occurred and we talked about that. I convinced the feds that the only way that you're going to stop such rioting is to give black folks some hope that something's going to be done. Now the state authority failed to act, and so they can't go back and try them again. We must claim there was a civil rights violation. The U. S. Attorney didn't want that. The FBI didn't want to do that. But I insisted, and argued and jumped up and beat my chest. You get what I mean now-- every once in a while, you have to act insane, you're so intense. The U. S. Attorney said, "Well Mr. Sutton, it's so hard to prove a civil rights violation." I said, "I know it but we've got to bring them anyway." I said, "We did that down in Miami." Then I'll talk about Miami and the things that stopped the rioting in Miami. The Attorney General came down there and all of the Justice Department Agency people were in the media. I convinced the Attorney General to go on the radio and TV in a press conference and announce that the federal government, and the U. S. Department of Justice, was going to bring violation of civil rights charges. His whole staff was saying the Attorney General can't do that. I said, "why can't you do that? Mr. Attorney General, that's the only thing that's going to bring any peace to this area. The next thing that I want you to do, I want you to meet with all the black leaders that have gathered here from across the country."

Question:
This is what you said?

Answer:
Me, yeah.

Question:
To the Attorney General?

Answer:
Yes, I talked to the Attorney General. My problem is I'm not scared of anybody, most especially when it comes to things like this. I know more than they do, and I don't have any problems saying so. I said, "Jesse Jackson and Ben Hooks are here." At that time, our friend Jordan was in the arena too. I would suggest that you convene, or let me convene them all, so you can talk with them. So he gave me permission to do that. At first Jesse refused to come because he was hoping to have a private meeting with the Attorney General. I said, "take it from me Jesse, because of the Attorney General's schedule, that's not possible. That's not going to happen." Well if it doesn't happen, then it doesn't happen. Good man, tremendous man, but Jesse likes to make decisions alone instead of making decisions with a group. He raises issues that nobody else raised, but I know him, and I said, "Well Jesse, we're going to have this meeting with the Attorney General at 10:00." I said to him that I hoped that he would come. "Come for me," I asked.

Question:
What year are we talking about?

Answer:
We are talking about the 1970's sometime. It had to be three or four years before the Rodney King incident. I'd have to go back and look in the records to see. I lose track of time. So Jesse came. We set up a meeting with the local leadership, the grassroots leadership, at a breakfast at 8:00 and we got all of the leaders from out of town together to come and meet with the Attorney General. I have sinister designs sometime. The local leadership was not invited to meet with the Attorney General. But I knew if they came to that breakfast, when we got ready to go meet with the Attorney General, they were going to. The Attorney General had staff. "Who's that?" they asked. They can't come in here. I said "if you want to have another riot, you try to get them out of here. Let me know before you start so I can leave, because I don't plan to tell them they aren't coming in here." "What do we say to the Attorney General?" (He was still up in his room.) I said, "Let me talk to the Attorney General." I went up, I said, "Mr. Attorney General, the grassroots folk are here, and they're not going to be polite like Jesse and Ben. They're going to crush you out, now, if you can take it for fifteen or twenty minutes then we can get somewhere. Just listen, some of them are going to be blowing off steam. Some of them are just glad to be able to tick you off, and they're going to do that, can you take it?" He said, "yeah, I can take it." I said, "well just take it, and then we can get onto the nitty-gritty. Just let them sound off for about fifteen or twenty minutes." And they did.

Question:
What did the Attorney General do?

Answer:
He stood there and he turned red, but he took it. They talked about the United States Department of Justice, and all of the injustices that ever occurred to black folk going back to 1400's. I said, "They know their history." The chronicle of the black struggle going all the way back to those days.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
So just by way of closing, I'm hearing in addition to your knowledge of the situation, because you had an eye and an ear for what was going on in the community, you also had some pretty top-notch persuasive skills?

Answer:
I'm pretty good. I really am. Most especially when I get fired up. You've talked to me way back yonder, you have to bring fever, I'm like an old preacher. Didn't have much knowledge, what he had was fervor, and he couldn't lead because of knowledge, he led because there are two things you have to do. In the first place, you have to impact knowledge, and the other one is to impart a sense of who you are. So I come from a combination of inspiration and information that Martin brought so beautifully. He could inspire us to keep on keeping on. He did that on Sunday and I learned how to do it. I learned. I said, "People wouldn't march in Birmingham because of knowledge." They had inspiration. That's why you didn't find any college professors out there. You didn't see any academicians out there because they had information. They knew that, with that information, they'd get hell beat out of them out there. But inspiration would drive you despite that. You knew you were going to get the hell beat out of you, and that's what comes. I talk all the time about the difference between inspiration and information, and when you combine the two what a mighty thing you have.




Ozell Sutton


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Question:
Would you have said that to the white caucus?

Answer:
I made a demonstration with them when I got over there. I said I've been with the Justice Department a long time. I believe like Langston Hughes: "Justice delayed is justice denied." I'm here from a different angle, but you're talking about the same subject. I don't wish that you sacrifice your rights, I don't want anybody to sacrifice their rights. But let's get onto it. Here I go on another sermon, but from a different angle.

Question:
So you reframed the issue for them in the caucus?

Answer:
In words that they could connect to.

Question:
That's an important piece, the use of language as a trust building tool.




Will Reed


 [Full Interview] [Topic Top]

Anyway, a group of black and Hispanic prisoners got together and wanted to meet with me. We sat down and went over the things they wanted, their concerns. I said, don't call these demands, because you're never going to get a thing if you start talking about demands. You don't demand anything. You're not in a position to demand anything. I spent the night down there and then I wrote down their issues and concerns. I always made them turn things around in a more amicable way. I told them, you can't demand things. I let everybody know that. I said, "You've got some things that you're concerned about, and we can address these issues. Then, maybe we'll be able to maybe effectuate some change. So, why don't we write these things out and work together?"






Copyright © 2000-2007
by Conflict Management Initiatives and the Conflict Information Consortium at the University of Colorado