Alternative future history
I was sitting on the Catskill Mountain Railroad train looking at the sun sparkling on the Ashokan Reservoir. To hike around the reservoir, some people rode on the train out and back. How did this happen?
The five boroughs had broken off and remained New York State. The rest of us happily became the state of Albany. We were a red or a blue state because that is what we chose to be, not because we were overwhelmed by New York City. Because Albany was a separate state, New York City had to re-negotiate with us for control of the reservoir. We rejected them.
Mr. Hein had moved on to other places and his successor was passionate about the CMRR. The tracks had not been ripped up. Working together, the railroad rocketed ahead with construction — and here I sat, drinking in every shimmer on the water and every sound of the engine as it idled. I’ve loved railroads since I was little.
Then, of course, I had to wake up to reality, as we all do. I remember taking our kids to the Sandy Creek Railroad on Lake Ontario every year. When they relocated, Kingston rejected them. They went where they are appreciated, supported and thriving, and bringing tourists to their area.
Much as I would miss the CMRR — and so would the merchants who profit from the tourism they bring — I say, “CMRR, go and do likewise. Go where you are supported. You deserve better.”
Respect and compassion
Writing as a board-certified traumatologist, through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress, I submit that authorities involved in policing our communities and investigating crimes try to understand the counterproductive impacts of invasive or hostile interrogation practices. Advocacy organizations have been developed (i.e.: Office of Crime Victims) to address this and, for decades, police departments had been advised to change their standards for providing services to victims of crimes. The intent was to stop creating an environment that blames the victim. One major example of this has been the handling of rape victims. What is true for them holds true for any victims: an individual who was victimized can be re-triggered, and therefore feel re-victimized when asked to recount the details of the traumatic event if the interrogation is not handled with extreme care and awareness of the effects of psychological traumatic stress.
It is widely known in the field of trauma studies that the physiological response to a negative or hostile encounter can cause a person’s body to detect what it perceives as extreme danger. So, regardless of what the mind may want to think, the person’s physiology will dominate their response and will trigger a fight-flight-freeze reaction. Once triggered, the body goes into survival mode and the capacity to think clearly can be greatly compromised. Blood flow changes and neurological networks are rerouted away from cognition and toward self preservation/survival. Studies have shown how individuals’ IQs can drop by as much as 30 points when their stress response is activated. As a result, a person may be unable to respond as desired. This is an equal opportunity problem … so anyone’s cognition can be compromised if their stress response is activated, including the police. For this reason, hostility will always undermine productive communication and can lead to adversarial encounters, as we have seen time and again. How people are approached can greatly impact the outcome of a situation. Whether it is a behavioral command or an inquiry about events, a respectful, rather than hostile, approach provides enough sense of safety to reduce the hyper-arousal of a stress response, and can create a more stable environment and better outcomes.
With that in mind, fostering trusting relationships with law enforcement starts by engaging communities with respect for each individual, through the use of compassion, sincere concern, and curiosity, rather than pre-judgment, fear, hostility and brutality. There is much to learn from the field of trauma studies which can be applied to community building and law-enforcement practices, to help create resilient, thriving community relations, and to reduce incidents of unnecessary and preventable violence.
Noelle Damon, LCSWR, DAAETS