De-escalating Violence

New Orleans   Getting more experience in hospital emergency and waiting rooms is on no one’s top ten list, but, trust me, you do the time and this comes with the territory.  If you can call it luck, it’s not you personally, though the anger and aggravation when it is family is every bit as bad. People are unhappy, scared, nervous and more.  Voices are raised.  Fists are slammed on counters.  Guards are around.  Sometime police are in and out.  Sirens are blaring outside.  Receptionists know little and say less.  Medical personnel are over worked and understaffed.  Come to think of it, the possibility, if not the prospect, of violence breaking out is ever present.  Reading a piece in The New York Times by Douglas Starr on the ways that medical personnel have learned to de-escalate volatile situations and what police can learn from them and vice versa suddenly resonated with me as an, “Oh, yeah!” moment, because it seemed so obvious and so right.

Let’s admit though from the very beginning that there are big differences from the streets to hospital sheets.  The biggest is that not everyone on one side is armed and possibly everyone on both sides are fully strapped.  That fear and uncertainty undoubtedly moves many a trigger finger.

Nonetheless, if medical staff who unarmed and are not allowed to “attack, shoot or otherwise harm patients” can learn techniques to defuse tense situations, so can police.  Compared to other professions they “report nonfatal violence-related injuries at many times the rate of other occupations including law enforcement” even though police have higher rates of fatalities which is another way of saying that they find themselves in tense and potentially violent situations but have been trained and have created a culture to contain violence.

Ironically, Starr’s examples come from tips they gained from police themselves as well as veterans hospitals that deal with the military in often traumatic situations.  Part of it is reading “body language” and creating a “reactionary space” that allows the health worker to respond, but a lot of it starts with taking a step back to realistically assess the situation in a “tactical pause” without firing first, so to speak, as many policemen seem prone to do.  The rules matter, but so does the person’s humanity. Makes sense.

Other common sense tips were helpful.  Never say “calm down” or “its policy” or refer to something as their “problem,” but to look for a collective solution.  Never point a finger was another great tip.  One that would help all doorknockers on home visits in dealing with a situation that turns uncomfortable or frightening by teaching a person to say, “Let me get right back to you because I need to go get a Form 9.”  There was no Form 9.  Substitute a flyer or survey or petition or anything that changes the space.

The piece notes that seventeen states passed laws mandating de-escalation training for police and some city police shops have acted on their own, some in response to the Ferguson shootings.  Change could be hard, he notes, with 18,000 police departments and no centralized policy making body for police, but Starr ends with the revolutionary notion that police, like doctors, should adopt a policy of doing “no harm.”

What a relief it would be for the rest of us if our dealings with police could be based on an assumption that they meant us no harm, so that we could unlearn the reality now which is an expectation of the opposite.

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Where are Seniors in the Fight for Social Security and Pensions?

New Orleans      I’m scratching my head.  Somehow, I’ve noticed something weird around the world, and it’s not adding up, or at least not adding up the way it should.  Maybe you have noticed it as well.  There are a lot of protests here and abroad about cutbacks and threats to pensions and benefit programs, but, surprisingly to me, they are being led and populated mainly by younger people without much participation by actual beneficiaries who are older or claimants.  What’s up with that?

In Nicaragua there have been days of protests led by young people over the government’s proposal to cut social security benefits to pay for rising medical costs.  In this instance social security is meant in the global sense of benefits for the unemployed or unable to work, rather than the United States linguistic politicization that terms any benefits, earned like unemployment or given as welfare complete with all the cultural baggage that carries.

In England university workers struck for weeks over attempts to change the nature of the pension program from a defined benefit program to a defined contribution program.  Their strike was powerful, but what they have won so far is a delay for a study committee that many activists worry will not be satisfactory.

Unrest and protests have been rising in France over curtailment not only of hard won workers’ rights but also the Macron government’s actions to dismantle various welfare benefits and entitlements.

Young, largely female teacher strikers in the United States have protested and gone on strike in recent months and among their issues have been protecting deterioration of pensions.

Where are the pensioners?  The seniors?  The recipients?

Some are there for sure, but too many are leaving the fight to their children, literally and metaphorically speaking.  At some level there’s simply an air of defeat, a sort of “I did my best, so good luck to the rest.”  Or worse, an attitude of “I’ve got mine, too bad about you.”

If welfare recipients and seniors are not protesting, isn’t it too much to ask young people to lead the fight?  Honestly, ask yourself, how many young people trying to survive in gig and informal economy jobs, find homes, lovers, and friends, have time – or interest – in what they might need in bad times or twenty, thirty or forty years from now.

Politicians and governments are counting on this indifference from the young and old.  Changes are often red-circles to exempt the old or punish the young in the future while there are not yet fighters even old enough to take the field in their own interest.

Seems like solidarity, good citizenship, and love of our families, friends, co-workers and communities demands those of us who understand the benefits and stand towards the front line, need to also be among the first to put our feet in the streets to stand up for the importance of these benefits to the quality of life, if not survival, for tens of millions.

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