Demming: Social unrest will continue without ‘solution-focused dialogue’

The location of the points of the civil disruption have one thing in common. They have voted solidly for the PNM for the past 29 years but they continue to be socially and economically under-served.

The seeds of the discontent were fertilised by the alleged police killing of three men in the Morvant area. Four days later, there is no word on the status of the party of policemen involved in the killings—other than an assurance that the matter will be investigated.

Photo: Lawmen move in on Morvant residents Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
All three men were shot dead within a few minutes.

That line about such investigations has been so frequently peddled that it provides little comfort. In another jurisdiction, the men would have at least been removed from active duty!

The commissioner of police is singing his victory song of having suppressed the failed ‘plan of disruption’ while the minister of national security is peddling his story that they were all paid instigators. But 30 June 2020 will be remembered as a day of massive disruption, after three months of Covid-19 lockdown.

We are experiencing a period of extreme insecurity. Business continuity is at risk; and people are unsure of where their next paycheque is coming from and therefore doubtful about their future survival.

All over, including amongst the law enforcers, emotions are raw. This is a time for real leadership and collaboration. This is a potential point of inflection where the true leader will emerge.

One option is to continue the use of force, which will result in increased bloodshed and the sacrificing of the lives of young black persons. Another option is to create opportunities for open collaboration, aimed at finding solutions.

There is no simple solution to this problem which has been festering for years. The answer lies in collaborating to understand the issues which drive these expressions. Academics and social commentators have proffered different solutions, but this is too complex to exclude the participants.

Photo: Morvant residents remonstrate with TTPS Inspector Alexander, after the police killing of Morvant residents Joel Jacobs, Israel Clinton and Noel Diamond on 27 June 2020.
(via Stabroeknews)

Both the ‘oppressed’ and the ‘oppressor’ must give voice to their thoughts and emotions. Whoever invests time in creating solution-focused dialogue will emerge the leader and solver of these deep, sticky social problems.

But alas, the timing may not be right for our formal leaders, because there is an election to be won. Kicking the problem down the road may be the preferred option at this time.

One thing the population is assured of is that, as we take this show-of-force approach, the problem will recur with increasing ferocity.

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  1. The writer indulges in a small ‘fiction’ through no fault of her own. Framing the issue (called a situation of interest or SOI) by using specific language is no doubt part of the fiction. For example, using the word ‘problem’ – this implies there is ‘a’ solution or solutions available.

    Social SOIs do not have solutions. They have ‘improvements’, usually through iterations of stakeholder participation. That itself can be a minor SOI – do the stakeholders genuinely really want to cooperate and strive to improve their lot, or do they come with hidden agendas as well as inherent biases?

    Social issues are known as ‘wicked problems’ and for the past 6 decades or so, the world has been learning that there are no easy fixes. Indeed, there may be no fixes.

    “Academics and social commentators have proffered different solutions, but this is too complex to exclude the participants”.

    This would certainly be an incorrect approach. No academic or social commentator can possibly know what the whole picture or complexity is all about. Hence the need for stakeholder participation. The important thing to note is that all stakeholders must be participating. Even then, there will never be 100% of the true picture. There will be gaps that have to be speculated upon, boundaries to the issues defined, agreement on actions to be taken once proposals are put forward…

    In short, social problems require systems thinking. Google is your friend.

  2. DD, You have to be careful not to oversimplify the problem. Is it not true that meaningful dialogue requires two parties more or less able to speak a common language? And is it not also true that the language that at least ONE of the parties imagines it speaks best is what you call “show of force?”

    Or is that me indulging in my own oversimplification?

    I don’t dispute the validity of your central point but do you have any suggestions as to how we might bring two parties to the table as equals, with no feelings of inferiority/superiority on either side? Do you know of any serious suggestions that have been rejected? Patrick Manning’s summit of community leaders does not qualify; I am asking about proposed initiatives that were rejected BEFORE they were tried.

    • Thanks for engaging. There is no single bullet to solve years of systemic decay. My magic wish would be to design an intervention which simultaneously operates to convene conversations with all stakeholders; gather data about ALL residents; provide/improve basic resources like schools, elder care facilities etc; and provide trauma and other counseling services with the aim of healing and connecting the community to their aspirations. This requires a long term intervervention which is data driven. It is from the data that solutions could be identified and designed. The fact that there is an election on the horizon means that another plaster will be applied. It is instructive that there is a 50% voter turnout in these constituencies. It is an indication of the disconnectedness of the people.

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