Staub’s Boots-on-the-Ground Work Based on Research


By Daphne Abeel

Special to the Mirror-Spectator

HOLYOKE, Mass. — In addition to writing many books, Ervin Staub has worked in a number of situations on the problem of violence prevention.

“My work in various field settings has been guided by my academic work,” said Staub in an interview from his home. “In my formal research, I study mass killings and violence in the context of the history of the country, the place and the relationships between people. I apply my understanding to different situations, always asking how can we prevent violence.”

One of the situations where his help was requested was in Los Angeles after the widely-publicized beating of Rodney King by the Los Angeles police.

“I got a call from the LA Times asking me to analyze what happened. And then I was invited to an event organized around the Rodney King incident. I was invited to develop a training program for the police officers which involved the concept of the bystander. Police officers work in pairs. If one of them gets emotional or threatening towards a citizen, the other officer is apt to get involved to support his fellow officer.”

Staub added, “It’s a difficult learning process on the part of the police. What does it mean to support another officer? It can mean intervening to stop an action.”

Because of his extensive work in Rwanda to promote reconciliation between the Hutus and the Tutsis, Staub was asked to come to Amsterdam after filmmaker Theo van Gogh was killed by a Muslim jihadist for having criticized the treatment of women by Muslims. Following van Gogh’s death, there were 800 instances of violence against mosques.

“People were very upset. The mayor of Amsterdam invited me to study the situation and to create proposals that would make violence less likely between the Dutch and Muslim populations. I interviewed many people, and discovered there was a great deal of segregation in the schools due to where people lived. There were very few schools where the two populations mixed. I developed a set of proposals to which the city administrator responded and there were some mitigations.”

Staub also traveled to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city.

“There was a need to promote racial reconciliation,” said Staub. “After Katrina, there were certain attempts to make the city more white, to keep black people out. The challenge was how to develop more positive relations between blacks and whites, how to make it possible for people in one group to see the humanity of people in the other group.”

As noted in his new book, Overcoming Evil, Staub has been deeply interested in the education of children.

“I have always worked with groups of teachers and parents on the issue of how you raise non-violent children. I’ve worked with Facing History and Ourselves on curriculum. They use the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide to teach people about history and also about the passivity of individuals.

Why do bystanders remain uninvolved? We teach that there is the potential of a witness to become active, to become involved and oppose violence.”

Warmth and affection are necessary to raise children, said Staub, but they are not enough. “You have to teach principles and show children that there are consequences to their actions. We place a lot of emphasis on learning by doing, getting children to help other people, getting them to engage with people outside their own group.”

This program, Quabbin Mediation, has been in place for five years and can be applied to other settings such as the workplace, said Staub. “Its goal is to train active bystanders.”

Staub feels that the Occupy Wall Street movement is a reaction to the myth of equality in America. “This myth cannot be maintained when the normal democratic process is subverted by people with money and the lobbyists. I think they are right about a lot of things except they lack a constructive plan. But I think the movement does support a vision of community that includes everyone — even the rich — not everyone who is rich wants to maintain the current system. I think they are working to create a genuine community where everyone deserves respect and consideration.”