Bystander intervention

‘De-escalating’ situations theme of program

John Taylor takes part in a mock scenario during bystander intervention training Tuesday at the Peter White Public Library. The purpose of the event was to teach participants how to de-escalate a situation. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — A person doesn’t have to be an “innocent bystander.”

At the same time, getting involved in a tense situation doesn’t have to be antagonistic.

A program entitled “Bystander Intervention: How to Safely De-Escalate Conflict” was presented to interested community members last Tuesday at the Peter White Public Library.

The presenter was trained facilitator and local psychologist Mary Pelton-Cooper, who talked about the principles of nonviolence and de-escalation and how they can be used in a stressful scenario.

The event was hosted by the group Neighbors for a Kinder Community.

“The reason that we’re doing this bystander training is because we believe that in troubled times we need to create a connected community, and this means we believe that the struggles of any part of our community are the struggles of all of us,” Pelton-Cooper said.

Attending the session was John Taylor, vice chair of the group Self Advocates of Michigan, which helps people with developmental disabilities.

“Me and people I know both see and deal with a lot of this type of harassment in our daily lives,” Taylor said.

Local resident Marge Forslin wanted to know “what to do and say” in difficult situations.

“I feel frustrated when I see someone being picked on unfairly, and I don’t like it when I just stand there because I’m in shock,” Forslin said.

That type of situation was one felt by many if not most of the audience members, who related tales of social injustice.

One man said that on Tuesday he was at a local laundromat where a black couple was doing laundry. An older white man, he said, “didn’t explicitly hover” around the black couple, but closely followed the twosome.

In another instance, a woman said a Warming Center patron was outside the facility smoking a cigarette — something they’re urged not to do — when a woman walked by and deliberately walked around the man, jutting her head in the air in a disparaging way.

The group discussed principles espoused by civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., one of which was that nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people, and is directed against the “forces of evil” versus the people doing the evil.

Pelton-Cooper directed participants to act out mock scenarios in which one person was harassing or bullying another.

What was a common theme among the scenarios was the pretend bystander first focusing on the “attacker,” not the targeted person.

It should be that targeted person — not a “victim,” as Pelton-Cooper pointed out — with whom the bystander initially aligns.

“This might be difficult because for many of us the natural inclination is to try to go to the source of the trouble and make it stop,” Pelton-Cooper said.

If somebody pulls a gun, people need to leave the area, but in other situations, resolving it peacefully and quickly is the goal, she said.

“Weigh the risks of stepping up,” Pelton-Cooper said. “Think about the particular situation, what’s happening. Don’t jump right in.”

She suggested a bystander shift the attention from the person causing the trouble to the “targeted person,” giving an introduction and offering support.

“If the person says they’re fine and they don’t want support, move back, but then monitor the situation,” said Pelton-Cooper, who noted the goal is to empower the targeted person to take back some control.

“Remember, you are there in solidarity, not as a savior,” Pelton-Cooper said.

She acknowledged people have different strengths they can bring to particular situations.

One thing, however, must be kept in mind.

“Always remember that you are focusing on the target and that you need to approach that person and see what they may need, and try to diffuse it, de-escalate it, in that way,” Pelton-Cooper said.

Pelton-Cooper expressed hope the audience, after listening to the presentation, would better understand how to handle a public situation involving conflict.

“The idea is that you will understand the background and principles of de-escalation and you’ll have improved your skills, and we hope that you’ll have the courage to step into a variety of difficult situations as a bystander, but not without forethought,” Pelton-Cooper said.

To learn about Neighbors for a Kinder Community’s Kinder Community Pledge, visit www.AKindCommunity.org.

Its next event, “A Circle of Compassion,” will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 24 in the Shiras Room of the Peter White Public Library.

To bring bystander intervention training to a group, contact Pelton-Cooper at mpeltonc@nmu.edu.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.