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Dec 11th
Passage to India PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mark Sell, BT Contributor   
December 2018

North Miami mayor, assistant, police chief make pilgrimage for enlightenment

YPix_MarkSell_12-18ou’re Smith Joseph, lame-duck mayor with a thriving medical practice and a hunger for legacy. It’s June, the big bond issue just blew up, and budget tedium lurks ahead. Ah, wanderlust. What to do? Where to go?

Haiti again? Sister cities and police departments, ethnic ties, and all that? Municipal foreign policies are common enough in this majority-immigrant Miami-Dade paella -- or bouillabaisse. Over the years, Miami and Hialeah have claimed Cuba, Sweetwater has claimed Nicaragua, and Miami Beach has had Israel. Why not Haiti?

But check this e-mail, delivered June 11:

The World Summit on Countering Violence and Extremism, Reinvigorating Compassion and Nonviolence, Honoring Mahatma Gandhi’s 149th birthday, September 28-October 3, in Mumbai and Bangalore.

Cost: $2999 a head, exclusive of airfare.

India! Gateway to the East! Pearl of South Asia with 1.3 billion souls! An emerging center of innovation and talent with rickety infrastructure and yawning inequality! A bit like home, actually. The letter reads:

“Dear Hon Mayor,

“I hope this finds you in great spirit.

“At a time when violence is on the rise, the principles of nonviolence or ‘Ahimsa’ that were used to transform society by leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Nelson Mandela, and Rev. Martin Luther King seem more relevant today than ever before.”

It continues: “You will be part of an exclusive group of global leaders including Mayors, Law enforcement/Police executives, Scholars, Policy Makers, and Violence Survivors from around the world.”

It goes on: “Delegates will travel across India and will be exposed to a series of workshops on nonviolence and case studies on how to apply these principles in their own communities. Participants will also be equipped with a toolkit of proven methodologies, actionable insights, and a support network to implement sustainable change to effectively counter violence and extremism.”

Sold!

So in August, passage to India was booked for Mayor Joseph, assistant Alberta Mathurin, and Police Chief Larry Juriga. The three joined a group of roughly 40, heavily American, ensuring that the City on the Move was well represented in this global delegation.

While the story got no coverage in these parts, it did rate a splendid write-up in the Deccan Chronicle, published in Hyderabad, circulation 1.33 million (versus the Miami Herald’s 53,719), where Joseph was cited as a visionary. It was also picked up by NDTV (New Delhi Television), a Hindi network with 11 million Twitter followers.

The Chronicle reported: “Visionaries from across the world like Dr Frank Straub, Director of Strategic Studies & Centre for Mass Violence Response Studies at the National Police Foundation, Charlie Allen, Director for Partnerships, Institute for Economics and Peace, Dr Joseph Smith [sic], Mayor, City of North Miami, Suzanne Reardon, Researcher from George Mason University and several other notable world dignitaries from the field of education, research, law enforcement, civic bodies and policy making have travelled to India to participate in the summit.”

Questions: Did fellow city council members or anyone else know about the trip in advance? Where’s the mayoral summary of the event, lessons learned, and applications going forward? Why did three people go, rather than one? What are plans for follow-up?

For responses, the mayor’s office referred us to the documents we’d already obtained.

Still, on Thursday, November 8, we counted a dozen of North Miami’s finest, off their patrols and bicycling in front of a squad car with new reflective lime-green shirts that read “PEACE OFFICER,” but without helmets. (Naughty!)

Did India inspire this, perhaps?

Yet the underlying story -- beyond the peculiar optics and eye-catching expenditures -- is dead serious.

One principle at work is the physical, mental, and spiritual health of first responders in preventing and defusing crises, rather than escalating them. Here, the Police Foundation’s Straub, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, has plenty to say.

“This trip is actually important for American policing,” Straub notes. “[The national foundation runs] a center to study mass violence events and were called to San Bernardino and the Pulse nightclub. I was at the World Trade Center for 9/11. We met with terror attack victims and families.

“We have to be thinking differently about the source of extremism and violence,” he adds. “We tend to meet violence with a greater show of force. How do we prevent incidents from happening? How do we identify people who need services? We have seen people who have committed violence and are struggling with violence and life and are very much alone. We have used rhetoric that has fired up communities on both sides.”

There was a Brazilian police commander in the group, Straub says. “He was in charge of one of the largest police forces in Brazil and introduced the concept of breathing and mindfulness to his officers. He started the program with some of his toughest people, starting with the SWAT team. They came to the first session and wouldn’t put down their machine guns. But over time they relaxed and got into the whole process of breathing and meditation. This is a transformative process. He has trained 6000-plus officers, and there is a waiting list.”

There may be lessons here for the North Miami Police Department, still reeling from the July 18, 2016, shooting of behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey and the ensuing descent of traumatized Arnaldo Rios Soto, the young man he was trying to help, into the maw of Florida’s dysfunctional system for the disabled.

The National Police Foundation has documented the physical and mental state of police and other first responders, with bad sleep, bad diets, obesity, shortened life spans, PTSD, high blood pressure, and stress. Earlier this year, one North Miami officer with marriage and work troubles shot himself in the head. Had his supervisor noticed anything and tried to help him?

In late July and early August -- two months before the India trip -- the North Miami Police Department put all its employees through two-day “Blue Courage” training, incorporating many principles and practices Frank Straub champions. So why journey to India after all that?

For many of us, police are neither action superheroes nor enemies. They’re neighbors, friends, or children of friends. We have looked out for each other’s houses, known each other’s families, attended each other’s barbecues and weddings, commiserated over divorces, and mourned friends. We know police need moral and physical courage and are usually better off de-escalating tensions than jumping out with muscles, tattoos, and guns drawn.

How about it? Call Straub, cement your best practices, try to salvage that $12,000-plus India trip as an investment rather than an expense, and prove it at roll call.

Why wait for pigs to fly? Namaste.

 

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