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Communication is the practice of moving a message from one entity to another. It is a process involving two or more agents who share a collection of signs and symbols. Thus, it involves exchanging thoughts, opinions or information via a medium such as speech, written works or even visual signs (Miller, 2006). One can communicate to persuade, warn, coerce, inform, educate, and (or) entertain. According to Wilbur Schramm (1954), there are various different types of communication; intrapersonal communication where individuals communicate within themselves, interpersonal communication that involves transfer of messages from one person to the other and mass communication where messages are sent to a large heterogeneous audience. Interpersonal communication can involve group communication; the exchange of messages among several individuals with a common goal (Beebe &Masterson, 2006). Such goals could involve conflict resolution. In resolving a conflict, people try to communicate to change the behavior believed to cause the conflict (Stewart, 2006). They may use several strategies like force, persuasion or providing the individual with knowledge about the available choices so that they can decide which is better for them (Poole & Roth, 1989). It involves the tactical use of communication to promote a positive behavior and it may involve segmentation of the audience into groups to enable different communication choices to be used (Centre for Global Health Communication and Marketing [CGHC], 2009). In this regard, the substance of this paper is to discuss how Connie Rice has used communication to reduce violence in Los Angeles. We consider the choices, ethical dimensions and the situation created by her choice of communication strategies.
Conflict resolution, a range of strategies for averting the cause of a disagreement between two or more parties, involves several communication methods. They include; negotiation, mediation, litigation, arbitration and even diplomacy (Wilmot &Hocker, 2007). In the interview, “…Connie Rice Lays down the Law to Cops and Gangs”, we can identify three main communication choices. They include litigation, negotiation and mediation. All these strategies were aimed at trying to solve the tensions between the criminal gangs in Los Angeles [LA] and the police division in endeavour to put down the levels of violence, the conflict in question. Litigation is the conduct of the lawsuit- a civil action brought before a court of law seeking redress for the damages done by the defendant. Connie used it in trying to fight the police brutality against the youth gangs. She would sue the police and try to argue that they were using excessive force in reducing crime (Lefer, 2008). The youths were targeting each other and the police, the police were also armed which led to continual shootings. This strategy for resolving the conflict between the gangs and police was a reaction to her personal feelings about the problem; she had seen the police as sexist, racist and cruel. She managed to compile her evidence against the police and she won most of the suits. However, the police never backed down. They continued with the paramilitary activity even though her lawsuits changed the analysis of the police attack rates. Video records would be used to determine the frequency of the cruelty. As a result, the judges compelled the police to remove cruel policemen from their departments. However, Connie realised that this method would not transform the political will of the communities to abandon violence (Lefer, 2008). The mentality for cruelty still existed. Apparently, litigation was a coercive method because it relied on formal procedures on which the parties had no option to walk out. It would ignore sensitivity to parties’ emotional or cultural interests (Wilmot &Hocker, 2007). Factual realities such as police enjoying to use brutality while referring to it as good policing would be ignored. In turn, the gangs would tighten their aggression against the police. It demanded another strategy.
Connie adopted negotiation. David Churchman (1993) defines negotiation as a conversational approach that aims at creating an agreement upon which parties can follow to resolve a conflict. It helps the parties involved to bargain for their interests. This may happen in organizations, governments, legal proceedings or even among individuals. It requires that people understand each other’s values and calls for persuasion to change one’s stand or behavior in order to avert the conflict (13). In the aftermath of the Rodney King police verdict of 1992 and the ensuing riots, Connie was inspired to adjust her communication approach (Lefer, 2008). While representing NAACP Defense Fund, she went to the residences of the black gangs. To avert suspicions from the gangs, she wore like a ‘black republican’ so that they [gangs] would see her as one of them. The gangs were reluctant at first and required her to bring the Camp David Accord, an agreement between the Jews and Arabs. With this, they would know what to negotiate for. Poole and Roth (1989) argue that negotiations can be successful if parties are aware of what they should stand for. Having gone through the accord, the Bloods and the Crips, the Violence gangs; agreed to settle their differences. In this case, Connie managed to broker their peace. Later, the police would begin their usual brutality and this made the gangs to target the police in revenge. They even informed her that they would kill the police. Apparently, this method was short of involving all the parties concerned. She had wanted to cool down the tempers of the gangs but ignored to involve the police. To counter this limitation, Connie suggested to the police to allow gang intervention workers and liaisons to reconcile with people as well as the police. She suggested for them to have common parties during the Good Friday celebrations. However, at such times of celebrations, people were apt to break into fights and violence would ensue. The people’s attitudes towards each other as well as the police hadn’t changed through negotiation. She had to adopt another method.
According to Beebe and Masterson (2006), mediation involves the intervention into a conflict by an acceptable agent to parties at conflict, helps them to reach an agreement but leaves the decision of resolving the conflict to the concerned parties (416). The mediator assists the parties in voluntarily reaching a mutual settlement of issues in dispute. Mediation is necessary when parties in conflict have strong emotions, know each other and the conflict affects a large population. In any conflict, parties must agree to give or take. However, the mediator must avert any suspicion of favouring one party over others (CGHC, 2009). For a start, Connie told both the gangs and the police of her new strategy. Of course she understood how previous suits against the police would affect her relationships with them so she chose to avert any suspicions (Lefer, 2008). She then resorted to understand the communities in conflict and identified those who could help to resolve the problem. She was to create motivation for the communities to realise the need for change. First, she suggested to the police to stop paramilitary activities and involved all the ranks of the police in discussions. The police agreed to motivate diplomatic police through awards and promotions. That police who still stuck on cruelty were demoted and new comers in the department would be fed on the new culture of reformation (Lefer, 2008). In this case, mediation helped her to know the background of the parties; the stumbling block was in the way the police were run and how gangs viewed themselves. Through persuasive involvement, Connie convinced the police to realise that use of force would be brutal. A lot of police deployment would mean that more resources would be required. The nature of the relationship among conflicting parties would even be worse; people would always try to overwhelm the police. Thus police brutality would aggravate rather than reduce violence. Connie’s strategy involved bringing together of former police officers; they would understand how the police worked, former gang members; they would help deal with the gang problem, as well as the police and the gang leaders. The gang members would be given responsibility in the community and help to avert further crime. However, some erstwhile gang members, already accommodated in the city governance, were found to have secret gang activities (Lefer, 2008). This meant that all these strategies had ethical limitations.
Negotiations with gangs validated their existence yet they were illegal groupings which the police had to eliminate. Moreover, Connie’s strategy involved vouching for alternative programs for gang members as an incentive to avoid violence, yet those youths who tried to avoid crime had no rewards. This was a flaw that would induce the peaceful law-abiding youths to join crime. Mediation works if parties concerned recognize each other and the mediator is neutral (CGHC, 2009). The LA communities in conflict had begun to reject the South East Police Division Chief, accusing him of high-handedness. Moreover, the mediator was not a neutral party; she was an African American whom the police would think favoured the black youth gangs. Connie’s approach in litigation was fuelled by her personal feelings. She even says in the interview that she enjoyed tormenting the police in court (Lefer, 2008); meaning she was more concerned with her subjective view of revenge than in resolving the conflict.
As observed earlier, litigation would only bring forth further police brutality because the police saw they were being fought. Negotiations validated the gangs and thus conflict with the police would continue. Mediation allowed acceptance of gangs into city contracts but it was seen as favourism; groups living by the law were sidelined and this would induce them into crime. This required another strategy.
In my case, I would approach a similar conflict with a totally neutral mediator. Based on how conflicts have been resolved around the world such as in apartheid South Africa, Iran Vs. US hostage saga and the Moroccan-Saharawi conflict, I would get a reputable person from another state, perhaps an organization which would do the analysis and the decisions made to depend on the report that it presents.
In conclusion, we can deduce that conflict resolution is a social change process which rarely gives a permanent solution. Parties may continue to perpetuate their differences in due course. Conflict resolution requires good communication choices and involves trying to change the standpoints of parties to adopt a mutual decision (Asch, 1956). Parties have to try several methods that they deem important to achieve a resolution.
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