Senior Conciliation Specialist, Community Relations Service
Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003
This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).
Q: When you go to these cases you are working for the Federal government. How do people react to that?
A: You know, it depends. It can be a pro and a con. It is not just the government it is the Justice Department. I think sometimes people have expectations that I cannot meet because they think that the Justice Department will come in and investigate the bad guys and resolve it. So I always have to be very careful in explaining what roles CRS in fact plays. I also have to be careful to explain that I am neutral, impartial and I am there as a resource to work with all of the sides, and basically describe the role of a mediator.
But in each of those cases it reaches the point where the relationship is going to be with you not the agency that you represent. Particularly in communities of color if you can't develop a trust relationship, and I don't mean trust in the technical sense in terms of Native Americans for instance, but just where they trust you, then who you are with does not really matter. It is important to find ways to develop those kinds of relationships before you can try to mediate or conciliate or resolve the conflict.
... Part of that is being realistic about expectations that they can have of me. Just because I can't come in and investigate and I can't sue anybody and I can't punish anybody, here's what I can do. Let's look at how that can be helpful to you. I begin to set realistic expectations of what they can expect from me and I can begin to carry out that role that I'm supposed to be carrying out.
Part of that is not trying to pretend that I can fix all of their problems because I absolutely cannot. I explain here's a piece that I can do and here's how I think we might be able to do that. So let's talk about how that might be useful or how we can best go about that. And if that then works, and is something that is important to them or valuable to them than they will take it.
Q: How do you go into a situation that is so hostile and so oppositional as was the case with the Rodney King incident?
A: I think part of what you need to be able to do is to identify smaller pieces of the larger conflict that you can actually respond to. Since I was not from Los Angeles, it was very clear that I was just brought in for this particular case. I had no illusions about being able to fix that whole issue or that broad of a conflict. So part of what I had to do was to identify pieces of that that I could address where I could make a difference and where I could be useful to all of the parties. I think that is true of many bigger problems or many bigger conflicts. What you need to do is if I can't fix the whole thing then maybe I can at least fix something in this neighborhood or maybe I can at least get these two parties talking. Or maybe I can at least ease tensions here somewhat.