So often — in life, in politics, in causes, on blogs — we end up in us-versus-them mode, so sure of the other side’s wrongness (and/or evilness) that we dehumanize them, at least to some degree.
That’s what I found so interesting about this story by my colleagues Scott Johnson and Angela Woodall. When I read the headline about the aftermath of tomorrow’s sentencing of Johannes Mehserle — which yours truly will be covering — I expected another story about merchants boarding up their shops and other signs of fear.
But that’s not what this story was about.
It opens with the perspective of Oakland Parents Together program director Kwame Nitoto, who went to a (figurative) place, he later admitted, he didn’t want to go. Here’s an excerpt from the story:
That sentiment is shared by the Rev. Mutima Imani and her partner, David Kant-Wofford, who helped spearhead a citywide initiative after the verdict to prepare the city for the sentencing with a series of workshops, like the one last week, that emphasize dialogue, listening and empathy.
Imani and others saw the violence firsthand after the verdict and, despite the presence of peacekeepers on the ground at the time, realized afterward that much more needed to be done.
Over the past two months, Imani has conducted 15 Community Dialogues and Peacekeeper Training sessions with hundreds of people at churches, community centers and schools across Oakland, focusing heavily on the East and West Oakland neighborhoods where tempers ran hot after Grant’s shooting, and where relations with the Oakland Police Department aren’t always smooth.
The program is funded in part by Measure Y, and benefits from additional support through Faces of East Oakland, a nonprofit group that has been sponsoring community-building workshops for several months.
Since the verdict, Imani’s group has strategically targeted merchants associations, youth groups, faith-based organizations, community activists and city staff members.
The reception has been largely positive. At first, some residents they met were itching for payback rather than peace.
But the three-hour training sessions helped many see the issue from another perspective.
Imani asks every participant to put aside feelings and argue each side of the case. For two minutes, everyone must advocate for Mehserle to go free. Then they must argue on behalf of Grant. The workshops also incorporate role-play, meditation and active listening.
Imani and Kant-Wooford even went to some of the anarchist groups, appealing to them for a peaceful protest. We’ll see if their message came through.