Sunday, January 25, 2015

peacemaking policing made real


Hal Pepinsky,, “peacemaking” at

January 25, 2015


                I have felt a hole in my recent posts in prioritizing  a need police and members of communities of color they police to get to know community members as full human beings—a need to show differences that individual police attitudes can make.  Today, I followed my usual Sunday practice of getting up an hour early, showering and taking my walk through the then dark and quiet streets of my neighborhood, and listening to “On Being” with host Krista Tippett on my local 7am hour broadcast.  Today, the main interview was with Thich Nhat Hanh, with the second quarter segment an interview of Cheri Maples, describing how Thich Nhat Hanh’s Zen training had profoundly transformed her approach from taking charge (her example, a domestic violence call) to compassion for the suffering of an angry father, for his full humanity (  The broadcast is transcribed; read or listen, take your pick.

                Maples has brought other police officers through the Zen training.  More broadly, Michael DeValve, who teaches police officers among others at Fayetteville State University, a follower of Thich Nhat Hanh himself, has just published A Different Justice: Love and the Future of Criminal Justice Practice in America, describing how mindfulness has transformed is own criminal justice teaching and practice (as a mediator).  Maples graphically describes how mindfulness transformed her policing.  Aggressive police officers can be trained, indeed train themselves to become peacemakers, where compassion overcomes fear, anger and force.  Thich Nhat Hanh’s presence and training has dramatically transformed the criminal justice practices of DeValve, of Maples, and probably of many of the police Maples has also drawn in.

                This is not to say that all police officers (or all people for that matter) need Zen training and self-cultivation.  It has worked for some who have tried, but to order people to become mindful is a contradiction in terms.  For one thing, I’m confident that compassionate, empathic policing in communities of color continues to exist now as it did when I rode along.  Like peacemaking generally, it goes largely unrecorded and unnoticed, unrecognized and unrewarded in popular culture, let alone in police administration and evaluation.  There have already been many paths to compassionate policing besides that taken by Maples—a police presence to cultivate and celebrate.  Compassion lies in all of us, police included, to be awakened as it was for Maples in volatile settings—as here where police are authorized by law to kill unarmed people in groups supposed in criminology textbooks as in popular and political culture to be especially dangerous.  As DeValve and I have found in mediation, adversaries can overcome their fear of and anger at one another in moments of safety, as they recognize one another’s fuller humanity.  And so I am led to believe that a root remedy for police violence in communities of color especially is to arrange non-law enforcement settings for police to participate in the lives of the people they police, on a regular basis, to know them in respects other than as suspects, as law-breakers and as complainants.  Among all warring groups, police and communities of color included, that ultimately is how wars abate, including the killing.  Meanwhile, my thanks to Cheri Maples for illustrating how compassionate policing defuses violence for those moved to try it.  Love and peace, hal

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