by Nicole Ortiz
Since the November election and the rise of “Trump’s America,” the nation has also seen a rise in hate crimes, particularly against Muslims, Jewish citizens, refugees, and other disenfranchised minority groups. In making America great again, Donald Trump has spurred his supporters toward xenophobia and isolating anyone who doesn’t look or think like them.
Due to this, Kayla Santosuosso, deputy director of the Arab American Association of New York (AAANY), was motivated to create the Accompany Project.
It began when Santosuosso was approached by a Muslim neighbor who felt unsafe walking in her New York neighborhood after she received violent threats on the subway. Santosuosso created a Google Doc to see if anyone would be interested in accompanying their neighbors who felt unsafe in the subways or anywhere else in their community. The goal of the project was to match people in need with people willing to help. The response she received was staggering: over 6,000 people responded within just four days of her initial posting.
From there, the AAANY started offering Bystander Intervention training to people across the boroughs who were interested in learning how to defend someone who was being threatened in a public situation. While this applies to marginalized minority groups who are being persecuted in post-election America, it can also extend to people in relationships that seem like they may become violent.
The main point of de-escalation is to try and stop a tense and potentially dangerous situation from getting worse.
The Accompany Project is aiming to do these Bystander Intervention training sessions in three parts, and as of right now, they’re only offering the first part, which focuses on de-escalation.
The group leader in the Park Slope training session on Wednesday, March 8 made a point to note that, since we’ve been conditioned to see certain bodies as dangerous, we must always be diligent about challenging our preconceived notions and trying to break down these ingrained stereotypes. She also went through a lesson of showing a powerful, confident “No!” versus a timid “No” that might convey an alternate meaning and lead to an entirely different outcome.
The main point of de-escalation is to try and stop a tense and potentially dangerous situation from getting worse. As the bystander, you want to intervene in a way that will keep everyone safe and tempers from flaring up.
They recommend following the four D’s: direct, delegate, distract, and delay. With these, they’re pretty much as straightforward as they sound.
Direct is directly intervening in a situation. Delegate is surveying the situation and figuring out the best method of intervention (this doesn’t always have to be through de-escalation). At this stage, our leader made sure to stress that calling 911 isn’t always helpful, and in fact, for many marginalized groups, it can actually be seen as a form of violence since you don’t know what you could be potentially unleashing upon them. Distract is taking attention away from the aggressor, the victim, or the situation. This could be something silly like pretending to recognize one of the people involved and asking them how they’ve been or if they remember you. If you feel ridiculous, it’s cost is definitely worthwhile in the long run. Delay is making an effort to check in with the survivor after the incident is over. This final step is incredibly important because it’ll remind the victim that they’re important and someone cares. It’s also a way to educate ourselves and communities about systems of oppression.
From there they suggested a few verbal de-escalation techniques.
Saying “No!” is a right—you can always tell someone no and that their actions are out of line. You can act like a broken record and repeat a statement over and over again until the message lands with them. You can also name their behavior and point out how what they’re doing specifically is inappropriate, violent, or offensive. Additionally, you can step it down, which entails speaking at the same volume that the aggressor is speaking in and then slowly decreasing your voice volume, which they’ll usually subconsciously match. By using “I” statements, you’ll maintain a level of control that doesn’t express judgments against the perpetrator (if they feel judged, they’re likely to be less rational). You can also force team or bring the conversation to “we” to offer the perpetrator a sense of unity so they’ll be less likely to direct their anger toward you. You can assertively ignore and interrupt the perpetrator to show that their behavior is unwarranted and not OK. In the end, however, it’s always important to keep yourself safe, and sometimes that means losing to win where you’ll just pull away from the situation as a form of self-defense. If you decide to do this, it’s important to steer clear of victim blaming.
While de-escalation is certainly not the only option in a tense public scenario, it’s incredibly helpful in a situation where you feel the urge to help someone but don’t know where to start. These tips are simply great to have in your back pocket and can ultimately (and hopefully) end up helping someone who is afraid and needs assistance.