Forums

Provide Forums Where Emerging Problems Can Be Worked Out

POSSIBLE STRATEGIES

  • Provide forums in which people can raise concerns with public officials.
  • Plan for facilitators who can help people talk about difficult issues such as race in constructive ways.
  • Plan ways to evaluate residents’ perceptions of these forums.
  • As discussed above, it is also helpful to:
    • Develop broadly inclusive ongoing advisory groups that meet regularly with key public officials and suggest solutions for real or perceived injustices.
    • Publicize how residents can participate in the planning effort, emphasizing the desire of the community that all voices will be heard.

WHY TAKE THIS STEP?

People may escalate their actions because nothing happens after they make demands. Sometimes public officials can simply make decisions in response to the problems brought to their attention, but that is not always easy and does not often happen readily. The plan should create processes that encourage communication and interchange among those involved in order to begin addressing the problems underlying those demands.

RESOURCES FOR DEVELOPING FORUMS

MORE DETAIL ON THESE STRATEGIES

It takes courage to acknowledge that a problem – particularly a complex one – might exist. But recognizing a concrete challenge can sometimes form the basis for participants to engage in a sustained, detailed discussion that enables them both to address underlying issues effectively and develop a more comprehensive, pro-active plan to ameliorate recurrence.

The story of the U.S. Justice Department’s Community Relations Service intervention in Fertile, Minnesota in 2011 illustrates such a situation. A series of slurs and petty vandalism against members of an Amish community culminated in individuals setting fire to a barn on an Amish farm and killing some of the calves housed within it. Amish leaders asked that the alleged arsonists not be prosecuted, as forgiveness was a central tenet of their religion, and the Amish community re-built the barn over the course of a week, using only manual labor and a chainsaw. While the Amish were unlikely to engage in civil unrest, there was a possibility that they would not report crimes in the future if their request was not met, thus perhaps encouraging those who wanted to perpetrate crimes against the Amish to repeat this or similar actions. Granting the Amish request posed a problem for police, however, as victims do not determine whether someone should be prosecuted. CRS convened a dialogue among the Amish, police, and members of the broader community. While the police did not accede to the request not to prosecute, the group suggested dealing with the underlying issues through increased police patrols near Amish farms as well as arranging events that helped non-Amish members of the community understand the Amish religion and way of life as a way to reduce future hate crimes. http://www.justice.gov/crs/what-we-do/hate-crimes.

The ability to convene a problem solving dialogue to deal with underlying interests, even when a demand cannot be granted, can be crucial to being responsive.  Just as providing these problem-solving processes can be important, so can checking to be certain that the processes are working. As Gloria Reyes, Deputy Mayor in Madison, Wisconsin explained regarding such an effort in the police-community context, it is essential to evaluate whether residents need and trust police outreach and community forums. Without evaluation, municipal and police officials may assume that a new initiative to improve trust with the particular communities within the larger city is successful even though, for some reason, it has failed to achieve its goals. She noted, “Police conduct community outreach initiatives with good intentions, however [they] do not evaluate the success of building trust by receiving input on the impact it is having from the community it is serving. We thought we were doing a good job with our trust based initiatives within our diverse communities; however, it was not until we were faced with crisis that we realized that there was a breakdown in trust within our communities of color. Evaluating trust based initiatives is essential in developing outreach initiatives that build trust and respond to the needs of the community.”

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