Introduction

When community leaders are faced with civil unrest, they find themselves playing critical roles in restoring peace and public safety, protecting the community, and responding to the media. But these leaders can achieve greater success if they organize their staffs to juggle even more interests and issues, according to those experienced in dealing with these conflicts.

In order to respond effectively to civil unrest, leaders need to be able to quickly create a framework for getting people from across the spectrum to work together to address the many challenges. The level of response called for, and the necessity of dealing with difficult issues, requires coordinated actions among many players. The nature of the political environment in the community also has an impact. Such things as whether the political players are on the same “team”, or whether previous divisions existed are factors that can make it more challenging to deal with the situation and develop the working relationships needed to address the problem.

This document addresses key considerations for leaders faced with these difficult situations. The first section provides suggestions leaders can employ to help their communities handle the immediate aftermath of a divisive incident. These considerations include: bringing in skilled intervenors to help mediate the conflict and assist in developing strategies at every step; working with law enforcement, key stakeholders, and the media; defining and framing the issues; and building trust. The second section deals with longer-term strategies for addressing the causes of conflict. The goal of the strategies is to facilitate the constructive expression of concern and to guide this advocacy to enduring resolutions rather than to violence and deeper bitterness.

Each of the suggestions includes some possible strategies for implementation and an illustration of the strategy in practice. The Appendix lists resources for securing additional information. A second document by the Divided Community Project, Planning in Advance of Civil Unrest (2016), counsels on how communities might plan to deal with civil unrest while also developing ways to deal with division before it escalates to polarization and civil unrest.

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