Peace initiative quells local gang violence

With urban violence rapidly becoming a major public health threat, a peace initiative to quell local gang violence is making an impact.

Although some details are kept secret to keep the program efficacious, the Boston Globe has done a thorough report in 2 gangs find real peace, in secret: Officials' summit halts bloodshed, by Boston Globe staff writer Suzanne Smalley.

Having spent some time drinking in some of the great ideas at the Program on Negotiation on Harvard Law School, home of much current theory and practice in alternative dispute resolution, I was impressed by the vision behind the success in this story.

'Secret negotiations culminating in a "peace summit" have produced an unprecedented truce between two of the most dangerous street gangs in Boston, dramatically reducing violence on their turf....'

Among the negotiation's powerful features:

* Following a brokered, temporary cease-fire (in which gang leaders and members agreed not to shoot each other on sight (!)): 'Truce organizers arranged for after-hours use of the Kennedy Library, one of the city's grandest locations, but a place none of the youths had ever visited. As the talks unfolded, the youths had panoramic views of the sun setting behind the city's skyline.

'"One of the most important things I think you can show a kid who is involved in this madness is that there is a world outside of it, that the world is larger than the six blocks that they live in," said one truce coordinator....

'Brown started the meeting with a prayer and a speech about the library, the president it honors, and how the possible truce could make history by giving their neighborhoods a chance for peace.'

Sharing the world beyond the conflict in which the parties were enmeshed gave them a stake in creating a healthier reality.

I've often thought of parallels between alternative therapies and alternative dispute resolution--the one, bringing wholeness to the individual, and the other, to nations. (See Mediation and Healing). Complementary therapies such as acupuncture and Ayurveda gauge health through techniques such as pulse diagnosis, and then utilize interventions on energy points known as meridians to help restore balance and revitalize health. In a sense, alternative dispute resolution brings peaceful means, as opposed to surgical means, to accomplish the same on national and international bodies.

In this case, 'Boston police commanders, ministers, and youth workers used methods more akin to international diplomacy to bring peace to two violent gangs.'

One of the proposals I've envisioned for the future is to bring alternative therapies into dispute resolution: to use meditation, visualization, guided imagery, breathing, and perhaps even acupuncture, Tai Chi, Chigong (Qigong), and other complementary and alternative medical modalities to the conflict resolution process. Some of this work is already being done by psychiatrist James Gordon, MD at the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., at least in regard to helping heal from trauma and the wounds of war:

"The HWW program includes a model comprised of scientifically-validated mind-body techniques (including meditation, guided imagery, and biofeedback); self-expression exercises (including writing, drawings and movement); and a powerful and effective model of group support."

As to the Boston effort: 'At the end of the 40-minute meeting, rival gang members shook hands.' And the peace initiative promoters included incentives (such as helping gang members find real jobs) to help make the peace lasting.

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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law, with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is also President of the the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine, also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society. The Institute serves as a reliable forum for investigation and recommendations regarding the legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care.

Additional links: Negotiating Integrative Medicine