CRS Mediator, Atlanta Office
Short:CRS mediator Ozell Sutton tells how he works with parties to prevent violence during marches and demonstrations.
Long: CRS mediator Ozell Sutton tells how he works with parties to prevent violence during marches and demonstrations.
Links: Essays: violence prevention, nonviolent direct action, intervention roles Checklists: violence, intervention roles.
At first I didn't see a role of readiness for the resolution of the problem. I saw my role as "preventing violence and major conflict between the parties, until you can move through that stage to a stage where resolution can be made". I wasn't trying, at first, to solve the problem of the city refusing to give to the sanitation workers check off -that was the problem. I didn't see that as my role at first. My role was to prevent violence.
Before you were telling us about your role as in this particular conflict, initially starting off as preventing violence. What did you do specifically to prevent the violence, and when were you able to assume it was okay to change your role?
For example, specifically when I met the city judge, I'm preventing violence.
Did they tell you, "If you don't meet with the judge, then we are going to do something"?
No they didn't tell me that. They were counting on me to be able to persuade the judge of the wisdom of making the change. Then they would deal with whatever it was. But they didn't offer any threats. They didn't say, "We will march anyway; we're going to change the route anyway." They didn't do that. Usually, at first, protestors try their best to exert their protest without confrontation. They have nothing to gain from confrontation and they don't want to be beaten. They don't want to take anybody who faces imminent danger who's not afraid, who's a fool. He may go ahead and do it, it may be that important, but there isn't anybody who tells you when he faces imminent danger if he's not afraid of it, then he's a fool. I know I am, I might do it, and did do it, but I was scared as hell sometimes. They didn't make any threats; they were counting on me to be able to work it out. I had successfully worked between parties before. I was pretty well known at this time by all parties involved -- by the police, by the mayor, by the leaders of the movement, by the labor leaders -- everybody knew who Ozell was. He walked that line between them. They talk about that down in Memphis now. When we say they had an anniversary, when I showed up they thought a long-lost relative had shown up. "There's Ozell." One guy said, "You saved us from getting beaten many times."
Just by your willingness to go to the mayor, go to the city, speak on behalf of the sanitation workers.
Not only that. I had another way, too. I was from the Department of Justice. Quite often you got two things. Blacks trusted the Community Relations Service more than they do the Department of Justice. But the weighted thing with whites is the Department of Justice. I think you can understand that. Even with the mayor and the chief of police, the Department of Justice carried much more weight. The Native Americans used to say, "The white man speaks with forked tongue." Well, I spoke with forked tongue. If I was in one place where it was more important that I be a field rep with Community Relations, that's all I say: "I'm with Community Relations." But when I was down at city hall, "I'm with Justice". That's the way I carried myself. Then you'd go between people. "I'm CRS." I was sort of responsible for initiating the whole idea of demonstrations. Marshaling themselves and controlling their people. At first it was just a group of people out there, but they got very sophisticated with that.