Policing: Peace Building, Community Building

I’ve been reaching outside the U.S. for models of policing in countries with long-standing troubles related to justice and peace. Troubles related to putting one group above another. One source which I have featured on this blog for the past several posts is Ireland’s Peace and Reconciliation movement. I’ve posted about the Corrymella Community which is the oldest Peace and Reconciliation movement in Ireland. See precious recent posts, video and audio links on the sidebars and in posts.

Today I am summarizing the wisdom of Peter Sheridan whose leadership on policing is particularly relevant to the U.S. police brutality against the African American community. Groups have called for a whole new approach to police culture in the U.S. Sheridan’s approach is important.

Two Central Ideas First: 1) The lens of justice is too narrow because you can never adjudicate the atrocities of the past adequately. There is a subtlety to the notion of justice, Sheridan advises. What justice looks like is not straight forward. Acknowledgement of the other’s view and experience, no matter how much we might disagree with it, is essential in a peace process. 2) You can bow to the past but not be bound by it. This latter idea is essential when dealing with centuries of injustice and violence. The statement was actually made by Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Ireland during a reconciliation visit.

Sheridan is a man of deep faith. Love your neighbor as yourself is a teaching that is a core part of his leadership. He states that the majority of people are decent and essentially want the same things that he does. He bases his policies on getting to know each other’s families. Relationship building is essential in peace-building. He sees policing that way: improving people’s lives. There is no homogeneous viewpoint, Sheridan states.

Police Service of Northern Ireland – PSNI is an independent board that evaluates policing in NI. *This might help communities and the USA in general. However, Sheridan’s view is that “everyone is responsible for policing their neighborhood and community.”

Regarding attempts to make sure police are represented by commensurate percentages of gender identity and ethnicity he disagrees. “Selection should be based on skills and abilities.” He referred to the past attempts to artificially balance the force with percent representation. It did not result in peace. Note to the wise: this is based on his considerable experience. He began at age 16 as a junior volunteer in the police force, and rose in the ranks as an effective leader during the atrocities of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. When he could have been made the Chief of the police forces in Ireland he chose to accept leadership of Co-Operation Ireland – NI’s Peace and Reconciliation organization. A 36-year veteran in the police force and graduate of Cambridge, Peter’s voice is a powerful one for the USA police justice movement, Black Lives Matter.

As many black activists and leaders in Louisville and Minneapolis have recently called for, policing needs to be community-based and part of true relationship-building, not the violent policies that characterize American policing today. Listen to the interview with Peter Sheridan by Padriag O’Tuama on the Corrymella Podcast below.


History and Justice

Who do we want to be? How do we become that?

Christine Bell, Professor of Constitutional Law at Edinburgh University, in a recent interview on the Corrymella Podcast, states these two questions as fundamental to achieving reconciliation and peace.

Another key statement Dr. Bell shares is that Peace and Reconciliation process is not about solving a problem, but rather, agreeing to disagree and working forward to find ways that move us closer to agreement. A key part of it is getting to know each other on a nonpolitical basis, finding ways to be in dialogue about common experiences.

At one point in this interview, Padriag O’Tuama, a theology leader in Ireland and founder of the Corrymella Community, mentions that Joe Biden is searching for a process like this to help heal the divided nation of the U.S.A.

What can Big Data Add to the Peace Process?

Bell is involved internationally with states and groups that are studying big data collected from 200 countries of the world community from 1990 forward. 170 peace agreements exist among them, and data shows that at least 39 subsequents agreements after the declaration of peace were required to actually achieve peace. But, people came together who disagreed. They agreed to disagree to enter into a peace process. Dr. Bell states that you begin with the two questions, 1) who do we want to be,, and 2) how do we become that?

How can this information help Americans achieve national unity?

Clearly things are changing in the U.S. and we are bitterly divided with each side of the political divide distrusting the other. Listen here and think about how you could start a process to come together using these two questions in your local community. Who do we want to be and how do we get there? Listen here.

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