How the PMI helps keep the peace
The following is the fourth excerpt from the recently published book, 'Killing Streets and Community Revival', authored by Horace Levy, member of the mediation group Peace Management Initiative. See Excerpt Five in Thursday's Gleaner.
The Peace Management Initiative (PMI) proceeded to tackle, up front, community violence, which meant addressing both the violence and its community matrix. Year 2002 was a national-election year and the violence then was between community gangs in communities separated and opposed by their affiliation to the two main political parties ... (both of which) were anxious for a violence-free election and worked behind the scenes to that end.
The result was a 7.5 per cent reduction in homicides, nationally, over the previous year (and a similar reduction the following year). Much of the credit [was] given to the PMI, although not only the parties but also the police and a number of non-governmental bodies were ... active in the field. The PMI stood out, however, for doing what almost no other organisation was doing - meeting and dealing directly with the community gangs ... . This focus on community gangs and their community bases has been its distinguishing feature.
The first line of PMI effort is mediation, followed by counselling of those children and adults traumatised by the sudden loss of a parent, relative or friend, and then, if and as a cease-fire takes hold, by the various developmental initiatives itemised below. To get the mediation under way, members of the PMI board and field staff (the latter more and more over the years) simply walk into a community rocked by shooting and homicide and meet with whoever comes forward. To the PMI, this coming forward signals a desire to end the 'war', a definite degree of goodwill. It feels free, therefore, and indeed compelled to work with such respondents. ... In fact, as the PMI came to recognise, - (they) usually do not include the criminal-minded, who prefer a climate of gunshots and violence ... .
These initial encounters with each side are then followed by a series of mediation sessions in which rivals are brought face to face, reluctantly at first, often to hear from the other side its own line as to who started the firefight. These meetings, held outside the communities, in some neutral place like an upscale hotel, can be quite stormy, with walkouts threatened but never quite happening. As the PMI came to learn, there has to be space for a large amount of venting ... . Little wonder, when one considers the pent-up suffering, fear, anger and grief flowing from years of killing, death and loss.
... Contributing to but distinct from the mediation efforts, the PMI's second main thrust - the counselling of the traumatised - would also be going forward. The initiative here ... came from a member of staff ... . She built up a team of pastors, counsellors and psychologists who went into the communities quieted, at least momentarily, by the mediation, to meet with and help those grieving for a family member or comrade lost in the violence. The first to be helped are the children, whose psychological health and maturing could be severely damaged, but the women and men ... also come in for attention.
A given community usually receives a concentrated series of visits and counselling, sometimes with visits to a counselling centre at the University of the West Indies or out-of-town excursions to Serenity Park ... . Not only personal psychological health is at stake but also the need to head off reprisals ... . This kind of sustained, behind-the-scenes, unrecognised work by the counselling team accounts for much of PMI's success.
It can hardly be overemphasised that what takes place through the PMI's mediation and counselling efforts is a process of reconciliation and restorative justice, on a micro and modest scale, not unlike the work on a national scale of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The PMI has been, in effect, Jamaica's TRC, community people showing the way to the wider society ... . Whether from politics or just over turf, the dispossession, deep hurt and grief flowing from so many cruel deaths and confrontations cannot at one stroke just be covered up and forgotten.
A current of mutual understanding, forgiveness and exculpation has to flow, and to the credit of many, given the national context of an Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye mentality, it has flowed ... . Combatants, mostly youthful, have had to be persuaded that this is the best, indeed the only, way to move forward. Only as fear and distrust over time dissipate, hurt is salved and developmental measures come into play can a sense of community be fully restored.
Mediation meetings can stretch on, then, for weeks depending on various factors, above all the seriousness of the commitment of participants to a ceasefire and their adherence to or violation of 'hold-it-down' agreements, until a stable situation can be reached. As (and if) a ceasefire gradually takes firm hold, discussions turn to developmental matters and there are also welfare requests.