My First Mediation
2011: New Year's Eve/New Year's Day, 1:00am.
After two parties, I decided to call it a night and head home. I wasn't walking in a straight line, but it was good enough. Angry shouting broke the quiet, something further down the block. As I got closer, I could see what was going on: Two couples were in a heated argument. A middle-aged black couple and a white couple in their 20's. The men were getting louder, more aggressive. The black woman stood back but was clearly upset, while the white woman tugged on her boyfriend's arm to pull him away.
As a public defender, I could see where this was headed...handcuffs. Someone was going to call the police. On a night like this, the police would be combative and one or more of the parties would get arrested-most likely the black man. This was rapidly gentrifying Clinton Hill where the incoming, wealthier demographic were given the benefit of the doubt.
I had to do something! Had I been sober, I would have thought through several possibilities. But I wasn't. So, I followed my instincts. I walked up to them and said "I'm a lawyer and I can help."
The relief was palpable. Bodies relaxed as all four faces turned to me. I asked them to tell me, briefly, what happened. Then I separated the couples and spoke to each separately. Apparently the black couple had just purchased a bottle of wine and were heading to an after party. The white couple bumped into them and the bottle fell and broke. They wanted to be reimbursed. The white couple were walking to a party in the opposite direction. The bump was an accident and wasn't even very hard. This was a scam and the broken bottle wasn't their responsibility.
After listening to both sides, we all took a look at the evidence: the broken bottle. There was a puddle of wine around the broken glass, so the young white man softened on his position that it was a scam. We checked out the wine label too, to get an idea of what it was worth.
I asked them what they wanted. The black couple wanted money, the white couple wanted this all to end. I separated them again and spoke with the white couple first, this time. I suggested they give $10 to the other two. The man protested; he doubted the wine cost $10. I asked him how much was it worth it to him to move on with his night. This was NYE, did he really want to stick around to haggle over $2?
I went to the black couple with the $10 compromise. The man wasn't happy; it was a larger bottle of wine which cost $12.99. Again, I pointed out that this was NYE. Did he want to stick around in the cold for $2.99?
I went to the white couple and asked for the $10. I told them I was glad it all worked out and encouraged them to head out to their party. The man was still grumbling, while his girlfriend just looked exhausted. I watched as they walked north, down the street.
I gave the $10 to the black couple and chatted with them for a couple of minutes. They headed east, off to buy another bottle of wine.
No more shouting. No police. An agreement that both sides found acceptable.
This was my first mediation and I fell in love with the process.