Updated: September 10, 2020 11:48 PM
Created: September 10, 2020 07:47 PM
ROCHESTER, N.Y (WHEC) — Could out-of-state mediators help ease the tension in Rochester following the death of Daniel Prude? Former Mayor Bill Johnson thinks so. He suggested the city get guidance from the experts with the Divided Community Project.
So News10NBC decided to investigate how the program worked Bloomington, Indiana, another city facing racial tension.
The farmers market in Bloomington looks much like ours here in Rochester. Families stroll by vendors peddling produce and products fresh from the farm. But one of those farms allegedly grows more than kale and corn.
Internet sleuths uncovered the couple's online connections to white supremacists. And when word spread, anti-fascists and white nationalists promised to descend on the comfortable college community, feeding flames of fear at the once family-friendly market.
The mayor was finally forced to shut down the market while the city tried to figure out what to do. Bloomington was a community in crisis.
In came the folks from the Divided Community Project based at the Ohio State University’s Moritz School of Law.
"The most important part is helping the community move forward from where it is. And often the wisdom to do that resides within the community,” said Carl Smallwood, an Ohio attorney and Co-director of the project.
Mediators from the Divided Community Project first assess the issues by talking to all the city's stakeholders.
“It's a process that's often benefitted by having a third party neutral come into the community where some parties don't trust other parties,” Smallwood said.
The hope is that during the process, mediators can help all sides find common ground.
But when those on one side of the issue hold press conferences praying for the peaceful support of city leaders, while the other side fills the streets nightly demanding that city leaders resign, how do these mediators possibly find a middle ground?
Smallwood says it’s difficult but it can be done. After all, most in the city have the same goal: The acknowledgment of systemic racism, a change in policing policies and assurances that the city work toward judicial equity.
"There often are deeper underlying community issues that need to be addressed," Smallwood said.
But to address them, Rochester may need guidance in finding its way to the golden ground of compromise.
If city leaders want help from the Divided Community Project, all they need to do is ask. The help is free; a grant pays for the mediators.
The full interview with Smallwood is in the video player below (mobile users, click here). The questions are transcribed underneath the video because the interview took place over Zoom and they were not audible.
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