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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Standing Rock and Veterans Stand

New Orleans      Standing Rock seems like yesterday though it was the fall and winter of 2016, when the Standing Rock Sioux were joined by representatives of tribes from throughout the nation and thousands of supporters in an encampment that tried to stop the completion of the Dakota Pipeline.  The fight inspired deep support.  A truck with clothing and supplies was loaded around our coffeehouse in New Orleans.  Appeals were wide spread and many counted their participation as a milestone in their lives.  I interviewed an organizer-participant on the top of a hillside overlooking the camp where he was able to get cell service and spoke with me on KABF’s Wade’s World for 30 minutes finally admitting that he was standing the whole time in freezing rain.  This was a serious fight.

One of the tactical surprises in the later stages of the resistance when the encampment was being threatened by the sheriff and others was the sudden announcement that a group of veterans being spearheaded by Wesley Clark, Jr., a former solider and son of General Wesley Clark a one-time presidential contender originally from Arkansas, was issuing a call for thousands of veterans to come stand in solidarity with the water keepers.  The fact that they had a GoFundMe site was widely publicized and the publicity helped the site blow up with donations that eventually, with various GoFundMe efforts, totaled more than $1.4 million dollars reportedly.  The notion that so many veterans might rally in this cause was very, very interesting and could have been strategically critical it seemed from an organizing perspective.  When the day came though the numbers were less than expected and the number of veterans reported was in the two-hundred range even as their organizers continue to claim that thousands were on the way but stranded by weather and logistics.  The story drifted as the courts moved increasingly against the tribe and the North Dakota winter became characteristically harsh and bitter for participants.

An amazingly well-reported story in the High Country News by Paige Blankenbuehler entitled “Cashing in on Standing Rock:  How Veterans Stand squandered $1.4 million raised around the #NoDAPL protests” fills in the blanks, and it makes a Dakota winter seem mild.  This is a story that freezes the soul.

The reporter is confused about charities and nonprofits, but she gets right the fact that for inexplicable and suspect reasons the GoFundMe donations were deposited in the personal account of one of the organizers, Michael Wood.  His handling, or rather mishandling, of the money is the lingering issue, but the total disorganization of everything else was the hot mess that meant the numbers at the action were weak, promised reimbursements were late to nonexistent, and logistics on the ground were virtually nonexistent for many veterans trying to support the indigenous efforts.

That’s a tragedy for all of us that no accounting or auditing can cure.  Wood is in a California condo paid for by these contributions. His take-the-money-and-run attitude about Veterans Stand is appalling, and his claim that these were personal donations is scandalous, but the real heartbreak underlying this story is the richness of an alliance between protestors and veterans that has been crippled by this Standing Rock scam and could shut the door on any a future alliance that mobilizes veterans for social justice for years, if not forever.

***

Please enjoy this unreleased version of Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince.

Thanks to KABF.

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