Tuesday, October 11, 2011

De-escalation: Non-Violence in the Face of Opposition

Here in Philadelphia, the police and the occupiers at City Hall have had an uneventful relationship so far. At shift change yesterday, I witnessed the captain on duty introduce the night shift captain to one of the organizers. But all is not so tranquil in all of the cities being occupied.

In Boston and Seattle, police have set in motion plans for clearing parks, said an article in the New York Times.

Those actions resulted in over 100 arrests today in Boston. The protestors had crossed two lines, said an article on boston.com. First, by threatening to tie up traffic and, second, by expanding their campground to a newly renovated area that the city had asked them to stay off.

A statement from Occupy Boston claims that the Boston PD “brutally attacked” the protestors, said the article.

Violence has yet to affect the Occupy Philly movement, and if Jeanne Schmolze has anything to do with it, protestors will know how to handle themselves, non-violently, in the face of opposition.
Schmolze is a 66-year-old Philadelphia resident and Katrina survivor. She moved to New Orleans in 2003 and came back to Philadelphia after the storm in 2005, when she lost her home. She is currently retired, unable to survive on social security, and will be reentering the workforce. Until then, she’s decided to be of service however she can and is planning for a de-escalation seminar this week, in order to better educate those participating in the movement.

“I’ve found that a group of people can turn into a mob very quickly,” she said in a phone interview this afternoon.

In order to manage a situation and try and retain some level of respect on all sides, there are certain tactics that demonstrators can use to protect themselves, while still occupying in solidarity. Most revolve around body language, group dynamics and communication.

Schmolze has had years of experience with conflict during her many years dealing with volatile populations of severely mentally ill and drug-addicted people as a social worker and union negotiator in Philadelphia, she said.

“I’ve taken a lot of training to know when something’s turning aggressive how to nip it in the bud,” she continued.

It’s these skills that have helped her to learn how much space you need, when to touch someone, when not to, how to react to different looks and how to deescalate an impulsive situation.

An aggressive action against officers could result in an aggressive response. But calling an officer by their name, could help to defuse a situation, before it gets out of control.

Coordinated, passive, civil disobedience in the face of police implements like nets is also a way to diffuse a situation, she said. “Five rows of people should sit down; three rows, the police can stomp right over you, but 5 rows…it shows that we will not be moved. We’re sitting. The aggression will come from the other side. ”

If a situation gets out of control, safety should always come first, she said, and an exit route should be communicated to the group. But “if people start bolting and running, it sets it off. If you’re walking away, there’s an assumption that you didn’t do anything. If you start running as a pack, [police] will intervene there.

“By taking two or three breaths, when you’re afraid or in a panic, you’re able to make a better decision as to what’s best for you and the group,” she said.

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