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Occupy Wall Street Protest: Collaborators in Peace- Not Against It

by Jeff Thompson
October 2011

From the Enjoy Mediation blog by Jeff Thompson. (This post and all posts by Jeff Thompson represent my personal reflections and opinions as a mediator and not that of any organization including the NYPD.)

Jeff Thompson

As someone who has been there multiple days, I can attest to the powerful and peaceful nature of basically all the people present at Zucotti Square- the proper name of the "Occupy Wall Street's" location.

The important note to point out to my fellow professionals is my primary job (aside of being a mediator) is as one of those people Jerry mentions. Actually though I am just "blue" being that I am not a supervisor but rather a detective in the NYPD Community Affairs Bureau.

My job is to ensure everyone gets to participate and engage in the protest while making sure safety concerns are addressed.
How do I do this?

I am happy to say I have had many interpersonal and informal conversations with many of the people there protesting. One of the main topics is always the police and often the mis-perception that "we" are against "them." Happily I am able to explain what our role is and how it is not designed to be confrontational between the protesters and police.

Last night as I walked in the pouring rain, I spoke with people holding posters, I respectfully declined to participate in a impromptu meditation session, had a great discussion with a man playing the diggeridoo (and sharing my appreciation for it and aboriginal art), and explained to a person blocking the sidewalk trying to take a photo that they had to move on because they were blocking traffic... after they took their photo.

It's the last bit that I want to explain a little more in-depth. We all know the cliche of "expanding the pie" and "developing empathy" while serving as mediators, right?

Well, the real challenge, and joy is applying it elsewhere in the other jobs and roles we serve in life.
Yes, the Chief of the NYPD told me to make sure during a portion of the night "my corner" of Liberty Street and Broadway was not to be cluttered with gawkers and protesters while he watched me do my job.

How did I do?

Empathy.

And common sense.

If I am a protester, or interested worker or tourist or press person walking down Broadway and see the protest, for sure I would want to stop and take a picture- admittedly it is, at its superficial level, very cool to see. Also, If i am one of the protesters and trying to meet up with my friends, a corner is often one of the best places to meet.
Does this create an intractable situation with the me and the orders of the Chief, who staring at me?

No.

These are some of the things I said:

"Hey, sir, once you get that great picture, please, you have to move on."

"I know you want to take a picture of that woman, especially because she is topless and has a sign that says "I Said Listen to Me- NOT LOOK!", but you are in the middle of the sidewalk, people can't get through. You have to take a picture quick and then move along."

"I know you are you waiting for someone but this corner is not the best spot- perhaps waiting just over their by the phone booth will be a better spot."

(using humor) "Buddy, this isn't working- you and your big bike at this corner is blocking everyone. This is definitely not a good spot to text message someone... especially considering you are standing in front of the Chief of the NYPD (he was). Do me a favor please, can you move down the block?"

"Wow that orange looks really, really good. I know once you are done peeling it (he was peeling it and throwing the bits in the garbage), you are going to move on, right?"

I said all of this in a tone that I would like to be spoken to, while also often gently patting or touchy the people on the back of the shoulder. I would then often end the encounter with "Thank you."

Cops are not against protesters.

We are there for you- not against you.

Biography


Jeff Thompson, Ph.D., is a professor at Lipscomb University, researcher, mediator, and trainer. He is also involved in crisis and hostage negotiation as well as a law enforcement detective. His research includes law enforcement crisis and hostage negotiation in terrorist incidents. He received his doctorate from Griffith University Law School having researched the impact nonverbal communication has in conflict situations with respect to developing rapport, building trust, and displaying professionalism.

Dr. Thompson has presented and trained on the topic of conflict, mediation, (crisis and hostage) negotiation, communication and nonverbal communication internationally for a variety of audiences including police personnel, government officials, judges, attorneys, physicians, sales people, business professionals, and both graduate and undergraduate students. He has also been published in numerous professional and academic publications.

He is the co-chair of ACR's national Crisis Negotiation Section, and he is an ad-hoc reviewer for multiple academic journals. He received his MS in Negotiation and Dispute Resolution from the Werner Institute, Creighton University School of Law.

(All posts by Jeff Thompson represent his personal reflections and opinions and not that of any organization.)



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