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Ferguson Conflict in Relation to Racial Discrimination in America—Conflict Intervention Strategy and Evaluation
“The finding that young black men are twenty-one times as likely as their white peers to be killed by police is drawn from reports filed for the years 2010 to 2012, the three most recent years for which FBU numbers are available (ProPublica).” Looking at this report from ProPublica, lethal weapons have been used by police upon black men throughout the time, and the numbers have been increasing every upcoming year. Ferguson is one of the examples of abusing police authority and power. There are stereotypes that exist in our society that black men are more likely involved in crime, such as robbery, murder, rape and so forth; which leads to a conflict between different races or blacks and white. In Ferguson, an unarmed black teenager Michael Brown has been killed by a white police officer. Brown was a suspect in a robbery of the local grocery store before the shooting. Police officer Darren Wilson was profoundly criticized for his action against the black male. After few months of investigation, a grand jury decided not to prosecute a police officer for any unlawful charges in relation to Mr. Brown’s death. After the jury decision, people were coming out and protest against the police brutality and injustice in America. Especially, Ferguson has been seen as a war zone because of the huge military style policing and violent protest.
There are various parties involved in this conflict. The St Louis County Police Department, federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of justice, community, students, organizations, general people, media, and the Federal government are the major parties involved in this conflict. Community leaders played an important role on this issue because they were able to catch the emotion and frustration of general people. Large amount of police presence also a cause of the violent conflict in Ferguson. When people saw the highest amount of militarized police presence in their community, their antagonism became raised. All of these parties have their own agendas and interest. However, the main issue is misconduct in treatment of African Americans by police officers. The St Louis county police department says that it was not an intentional killing of Michael Brown. Michael Brown did threaten the police officer, which lead to the incident. Police department claims that the incident happened because the law enforcement officer had responsibility to protect people and property. On the other hand, community activists, and general people have different opinions, one is that law enforcement officials have racial bias towards minorities.
Local and federal government are also involved in this conflict because the conflict has been able to catch the national and international attention throughout the period. Local government had an important coordinating role between protesters and administration. Despite the fact, America is functioning through the law, and we already legitimized the police authority to use their weapons in certain conditions. When the grand jury decision came out, there were no other options to disapprove the decision. So the local and federal government had responsibility to play a role as mediator in this conflict. In addition, media have an influential role in this incident. Media also played a vital role in this conflict, because most of the incidents have been covered by the media, which spread throughout the world. People have seen the huge arm police presence, tear gas, and rubber bullets in Ferguson. Protesters also seen as much more violent, which lead to a robbery, looting and burning the personal properties. It looked alike war zone. Media twisted the incident on their interest, some media spent most of their time talking about Ferguson conflict. They also presented violence as causes of racial profiling and discrimination. It could be true at some point, however, violence should not be promoted. Media blamed police for inferring norms of free press and reporting, as well as presence of security force has been upheld as an excessive policing.
RELATION TO THE THEORIES
This conflict is very much related to structural violence. Johan Galtung’s term of Structural violence is silent, it does not show- it is essentially static, it is the tranquil waters (Galtung: 173).” African-Americans have been facing a tremendous amount of injustice and economic disparity because of systematic violence. To prove it, one can look at this data from Pew Research, “In May 2013 fully 88% said there was a lot or some discrimination against blacks, with 46% seeing a lot discrimination. A majority of whites (57%) also saw at least some discrimination against blacks, but just 16% said there was a lot of discrimination (Doherty).” African-Americans have to face a lot of pain and struggle every day because people have misconceptions and stereotypes upon them. Structural violence refers the violence that created by government, culture and policy. Structural violence is relevant to this particular conflict, which directly related to the social structure, institutional practices and historical legacy in regards of Blacks in America. This existing social structure, government institutions, and economic disparity fueled the racial conflict in Ferguson. This conflict significantly related to the Galtung’s idea of structural, direct and cultural violence.
I believe Basic Human Needs Theory (BHN) is also closely attached to this conflict. In regards of John Burton’s BHN theory, Rubenstein states that basic human needs theory offers theorists and practitioners certain important advantages. First it permits conflict resolvers to make a valid distinction between struggles that can be dealt with by employing the conventional trinity of force, law, and/or power based negotiation, and those whose resolution requires other measures; second, equipped with a needs-based map of the field, conflict analysts and resolvers can understand the contradictions inherent in general notions like ‘negotiation’ and dispute resolution; third, a needs-based approach to social conflict undermines conventional notions of conflict causation; and the theory provides a basics for linking conflict analysis with conflict resolution (Rubenstein, 2001). Basic human needs are the strongest source of explanation of human behavior and social interaction. Basic Human Needs theory deals with the daily activities of a human being that also effects on social structure. It also helps to understand the human conflict and possible resolution within the human society. In Ferguson conflict, tension has been raised because of certain issues, such as unemployment, life struggle, security, and fear. Burton’s explanation upon human needs also focuses on the study of the human being as a unit. Neglecting universal human needs could cause violence and conflict within the society, and states. Going back to the conflict, the African-American community has been seen as violent, and social prejudiced that neglected their needs. Despite the fact, Black community is still facing higher levels of unemployment, racial profiling, discrimination, prejudice, and inequalities. People connected these problems with stereotypes and prejudice on the black society. The common stereotypes against black Americans are violence and sex. People see them as sexually aggressive and involving on crime. The African American male is more likely to be assumed to be guilty of crime than other races, but there is not sufficient evidences for proving these stereotypes.
I liked the John Burton’s idea that prevention is better than cure. He argued that conflict resolution is a secondary work, first priority need to be prevent violence, and conflict from the beginning. John Burton argues that conflict prevention is an important tool for preventing many conflicts. Resolution is important for research, which gives a detailed insight of the conflict. It also provides basic causes of the conflict and helps to analyze the problem. The research on conflict resolution that gives a detailed framework for decision makers to assess the cost and consequences of their policies in the longer term, and an idea about the further steps that will prevent conflict (Burton). Burton states the idea that conflict prevention as a philosophy and political system instead of dispute resolution and other Western legal adversarial procedures. Conflict prevention would be supportive for analyzing and negotiating conflict. The way of analyzing conflict is to differentiate opposing interests, and the problem, among the parties. Burton has advocated conflict prevention as philosophy and political system because politics formulate policies and the political philosophy of human needs satisfaction as the main goal of the society is placed. Ferguson is an example of the political unwillingness to resolve the social conflict among the racial minorities. Ferguson can be a beginning of violent conflict, and dividing line between different racial groups, so we should address the problem in policy and practice.
In this conflict, frustration-aggression theory also plays an important role throughout the different time periods. I believe that Gurr’s framework can help with a better understanding of the increasing level of local, national, regional and international conflict and wars. Gurr argues that the psychological assumption that political violence originates as a non-rational reaction to frustration. He also believes that frustration-aggression is the main source of the violence in human society. Some political, economic and social instability can lead to the violence, however frustration is a much stronger and the motivating factor in the violence. Second, relative deprivation is parties’ perception of discrepancy between their value expectations and their value capabilities. Deprivation arises when people’s value expectations beat their value capabilities, which include money, security, and wellbeing (etc.). Gurr says that frustration-aggression is the main source of violence and frustration can be stronger. In the example, the Ferguson protesters have been involved in violent act because they have anger and frustration against the law enforcement, and judicial system. I strongly agree with the Gurr’s idea of frustration-aggression theory, which relates to the Ferguson violence and conflict.
Ferguson conflict, explains violence or violent act as a function of economic factors. This conflict is the outcome of weaknesses within governance—inequality and social exclusion. On the other hand, social identity also plays significant role in the conflict escalates. Social identity is shaped by the social and political environment, and social institutions can function as an agent of identities, classification, and identification. The black population has been depressed by white supremacy in America, and both parties have some sort of bias and prejudice.
SOURCES OF CONFLICT
In this particular conflict, conflict has been built one to another. Ferguson is highly populated by black population; however, there is a lack of representation within the law enforcement by blacks. The problem also situated because of heavily militarization of police. People see a police force as an enemy and the entire community sees the Michael Brown as their child. In addition, violence created violence, some extreme groups, or criminal gangs have had the opportunity to create more violence through looting, and burning the city. One can compare the conflict with Galtung’s ABC model, where contradiction refers the parties and their interests and clash of interests between them. Attitude refers to feelings, belief, and desire of the conflict. Ferguson conflict built with people’s feelings and belief that black community has been discriminated by white police/police. Third, behavior focuses on cooperation, gestures signifying conciliation or hostility. This incident, opposition parties have aggressive behavior against existing social silent structure. Police officers have been appearing with overemphasized the threat of teenager Michael Brown, which was a result of racial biases. Studies show that black male are more likely stopped by police than another race. The conflict also escalated through heavily armed police force, as well as demonstrator’s action, such as thrown objects, gunshots, and looting. The conflict has been built as a structure because we have a greater level of exclusion between higher class and lower class.
According to The Federal News Dispatch, “Fresh protests were held across the United States as anger persisted over a grand jury’s decision not to charge a white police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager (Lanham).” The tension between police system and black communities in the United States has been increasing since past few years. After the death of Michele Brown, policing in America has been criticized by all levels of people. Looking at the Ferguson incident, intervention is necessary for the peaceful land of this racial conflict between police and African-American community.
Most of the intractable conflicts require some sort of intervention from third parties. Ferguson conflict has raised a lot of questions about black sovereignty and people have been looking for long term resolution of the conflict. Currently, few organizations as well as government authorities are working in this conflict throughout the time period. However, conflict resolution process is not over. This particular conflict has long run impact in the US society, that’s why our intervention process should be able to address the issues in the Black community. I believe, intervention should be peaceful, based on mutual understanding, focusing on win-win principles, and government and civilian’s involvement. The United States Department of Justice has established the National Initiative for Building Trust and Justices, which focus on building a good relationship between the community and law enforcement. The initiative is an ongoing collaborating program with Justice Department, which provide training and workshops to police force and communities on decrease prejudice and promote the fairness for everyone. The department of the Justices also investigated the incident and published their report on the 4th of March 2015. According to the report, “Our investigation showed that Ferguson police officers routinely violate the Fourth Amendment in stopping people without reasonable suspicion, arresting them without probable cause, and using unreasonable force against them.” The report clearly mentioned that the Ferguson police department has been violating law, and human rights. I think, it would be a key step for the conflict intervention in the Ferguson.
Second, local churches are working for the combining community in one place and discouraging violence. The United Methodist Church had organized peaceful activism, such as prayer vigils, helped with cleanup, met with community leaders, and protesters. Third, international organizations and the United Nations have had full attention to the Ferguson conflict because of the huge military presence and protest. Amnesty International USA sent a team to Ferguson from August 14th through 22nd. The team was deployed to working with the protesters and the community on de-escalation of conflict. The delegation team also observed and monitored the protests and law enforcement responses. According to the Amnesty International, “the shooting of Michael brown highlighted on a national level the persistent and widespread pattern of racially discriminatory treatment by law enforcement across the US, including unjustified stops, and searches, ill treatment and excessive and sometimes lethal, use of force (On the…).” There are many other interventions going on, such as local clubs, college, universities, NGOs, media, and activists. The conflict has been shifted from violence to nonviolence because of intervention, and negotiation.
According to Walker, “Shipler’s analysis is an awareness that the legal changes wrought by the civil movement did not completely resolve the political, social, economic, and psychological differences between blacks and white America (Walker).” There is still a lot of struggle going on within the black community because of lack of socioeconomic development. Looking at this conflict, our intervention can support for social awareness through training, peaceful rally, workshop, school programs, town hall meeting and so on. We also have to work with police, local leaders, clubs, and politicians because these parties have an important role to deescalate the conflict. Ferguson conflict is not over yet, people still have frustration and anger upon our system. If you look at the structural violence perspective, this conflict is just beginning because structural changes may not happen within a short time. As a conflict intervention scholar, we can minimize the anger through education and peaceful engagement. Black communities have been facing historical trauma in the US, which may lead to the current action. So, we have a responsibility to educate them about the current reality and further progress. We strongly support the educational program as well as economic progress of the Black community. Intervention is not only a process of negotiation, it is also a process of activism. We would like to promote the activism up to the policy level. The intervention plan has some limitation, such as financial support, time, and security
There are several intervention strategies and approaches for the conflict intervention, such as problem solving, compromise, expansion of resources, organization redesign and activism. However, problem solving, organization redesign, expansion of resources, and activism are very important intervention tools for this conflict. Problem solving strategy focuses on the attainment of the common interests of the parties. Here, I would like to recommend the community meeting, town hall, training/workshops, and coordinating programs between government authority and the black community. Organization redesign refers to restructuring the existing system, which allows to mix representation in the police force. Next, expansion of resources shall help the community for better education and economic opportunity. Lastly, peaceful activism can build strong community with knowledge, and education. It also forces the authorities to change their mistreatment and misleading behaviors.
In this conflict, I have seen the relevancy of the J. P. Lederach’s idea about the peace building. He discussed the idea that how we transcend the cycles of violence, and he also talks about transcending violence is forged by the capacity to generate mobilize, and build the moral imagination (5). It is a very important thought that moral judgments can help to conflict resolution and peace building. His methods of conflict resolution is not only theoretical because he generates the idea from the real field, and experiences. His story about Wajir, how the women stopped a war and made a safer place. He saw that poverty, unemployment remains a significant challenge in Wajir; guns are still a problem. However, people are meeting in a specific time frame and discussing and working together for peace. His experiences explains that the grass root level programs such as teacher trainings, women groups, local peace building committees, and meetings are essential and great ideas for peace building process. I agree with these principles because positive message will be circulated when people are engaged in different social activities. These are very important activities that we can use in Ferguson to build a community stronger. Lederach’s other aspects of peacebuilding are introduced as the space for the creative act and the enthusiasm to take risks. We should take risks in order to achieve positive peace in Ferguson through community development (economically, socially, and psychologically).
CONFLICT INTERVENTION MODEL
“Anti-black discrimination is a matter of racial-power inequality institutionalized in a variety of economic and social institutions over a long period of time (Feagin).” Racism and ethnic discrimination is still an important issue in the United States. Why do black Americans continue experiencing discrimination today? Even 1964 Civil Rights Act stipulates that all persons will be treated equal and there is no discrimination based on color, religion, and race. Looking at the public practices, we still have such a huge amount of discrimination against the black in America. The tension between police brutality and black communities in the United States has been increasing since past few years. Looking at the Ferguson conflict, after the death of Michele Brown, policing in America has been criticized in all levels. Conflict like Ferguson, third party intervention is inevitable and need for the conflict resolution. Intervention refers the contribution in a conflict to assist the disagreeing parties to manage or resolution. As a conflict resolution practitioner, I would like to use my own intervention strategies, goals, monitoring tools, as well as evaluation process, and complicating the dynamics of the Ferguson conflict. Ferguson conflict can be an example of racial segregation and prejudice in the US society. I strongly believe that Ferguson could be a major conflict in the US community, which need to be addressed in time for peaceful conflict resolution.
In this conflict, I am going to implement the three intervention strategy as a model. First, conflict assessments, which focuses on the study of past incidents, structural setting of institutions, current initiatives, and possible future actions. The assessments also acknowledges the root causes of racism in America, and current practices. I believe that conflict assessment can be helpful in the social learning, as well as gathering information and building a good relationship with stakeholders. In this typical conflict, conflict resolution mediator should work with community leaders, police, local government, and general people. Second, facilitation and education is another important conflict intervention strategy that supports the peace and community building initiatives. In this stage, I proposed a different kind of nonviolence trainings, bias awareness campaign across the institutions, and media. As a conflict resolution practitioner, I strongly support the idea of mediation between different groups. Despite the fact, there is no resolution comes out without collective action between the stakeholders. Education also plays an important role in this intervention, which includes formal and non-formal educational practices. General people are not well known about the legal terms, and policy; that’s why this strategy focuses the law education, workshop, town hall, radio/TV, and school programs. When you look at this conflict, black population have been segregated from the mainstream society because of education and economic reason. This strategy can be helpful for the better education and economic well-being of the society as a whole.
Finally, dialogue and advocacy is very important intervention strategy, which opens the door for conflict resolution. Open dialogue between police, community leaders, local institutions (school, city, county, clubs, and universities), general people, and state government can be fruitful for the successful intervention. I believe that sitting on a round table and having discussion would be always productive in this conflict. People can share their views, excuse each other, and making a strong relationship. My intervention strategy focuses on advocacy and lobbying about wrongdoing. Here, I also emphasized on restorative justice, where Michele Brown’s family should be able to get justice. Conflict resolution doesn’t mean solved the conflict in any cost, it also a process of creating justice for victims.
The goals of the intervention process are very complicated because of the nature of this conflict. There is not a clear outcome that people can see within a short time. I like to set a goal that can be achieved in a certain period of time. First, detail assessment of the Ferguson conflict can provide clear qualitative and quantitative information. The basic goal of the conflict assessment would be a deeper understanding about the current dynamics of the Ferguson conflict. It is a learning process of stakeholder, building relationships, determine the possibility of intervention, and offer insights for most likely intervention strategy. Next, the goal of the facilitation and education strategy would be creating opportunities for the blacks through employment and education. I strongly urge to work with business leaders, and community colleges for job creation, which allows people to generate income and prosperity. Working with youth and community leaders for education and training programs help to build better relationship between police and community. In Ferguson, most of the city officials, and police officers are white, which does not reflect the equal representation of the Black community in local government. This program should be able to encourage them for equal representation in local institutions. Third, dialogue and advocacy is another important strategy that creates peace and harmony within the dispute parties, such as community, police, student, and Black population. Town hall meeting, meditation clinics, and peaceful advocacy may change the law and policy in favor of minority groups.
There are several complications in this conflict intervention process. Lack of preparation in nonviolent solutions, huge militarization of policing, stereotype, inequalities, no penalties when police abuse the power, historical legacy, lacking of financial supports are a major area of complicating the dynamics of the conflict. Some of the complications are rooted within the society and practices from a long period of time. Solving these problems may not be an easy task; however, there are many ways that help to change the society for better. For example, police officers have been rarely punished for their illegal act because there were not a visible evidence available for justice. Although, body cameras are another way to enforce them to legal justice. Socio-economic, gender gap, and stereotype can be filled through education, job creation, and awareness training programs. On the other hand, the intervention process also has some obstacles because of financial, logistics, and ethical boundaries. Financial and logistic is major challenges in the intervention process because getting fund is not that simple. Who would be a donor? Community organizers, youth, and local business are the major fundraiser, because they would be part of the program. “…….it is often difficult to gain enough funding to mount an adequately powerful intervention (Fisher).” Large business companies may have their own interest in any sort of grant. As a conflict resolution practitioner, I have to focus on ethical norms, I may not be able to agree with donor’s terms and conditions. In addition, mediators have to face ethical challenges in the ground, for example, you may not go against the law and court decision, even though the decision could make negative impact in conflict. Lastly, who is justified to represent the community as a whole? I believe community organizers, activist, teachers, students, and religious leaders are major community stakeholders because they can lead the society as a whole.
Evaluating and finding the intervention outcomes is another important part of the study in conflict resolution. Ferguson is vastly populated by blacks, and governing by white. There is not a single way of evaluating the conflict. However, neutrality plays a vital role in this conflict, as well as many other types of conflict. “Reviewing the evaluation standards to see which of them clash the most with the criteria for judging naturalistic inquiry, it appears that the practicalities of conducting evaluation may lead to the most trouble (Daniels).” Qualitative and quantitative methods are an effective way of measuring outcomes in this conflict. It is not possible to measure your goals within a short period of time, because this conflict is rooted in our structure. It may take a long period of time for significant changes. Education and economic programs are key intervention for the long run socio-economic progress. After implementation of these intervention strategies, local representation can be better reflection of the community, and remove ineffective factors put in place in attempts to build equality.
Despite the facet, Ferguson conflict is one of the example that clearly exemplify racial discrimination and identity crisis in the United States. Behind the conflict, there are different elements and theories play vital role. Current social and institutional structure of the society, lacks of basic human needs, identity, economic, and aggression theories have important impact in this particular conflict. Studying the Ferguson conflict, we should set a ground rule, understand the cultural diversity, historical facts, and create an ethical boundary about the field before formulating an intervention strategy. Conflict assessments, facilitation/education, dialogue, and avocation are major conflict intervention that can be effective in the current situation.
Amnesty International USA. (2014). On the Streets of America: Human Rights Abuses in Ferguson. Retrieved from http://www.amnestyusa.org/research/reports/on-the-streets-of-america-human-rights-abuses-in-ferguson
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