Louis Cohen has had a decades-long career as a mediator and a peacebuilder, holding a wide variety of positions ranging from the military to law enforcement, to community mediator. Throughout the years, it is clear that no matter what role he is in, he is guided by patience, kindness, and the desire to sow peace in the world around him. Louis may be new to MBBI, joining just last year, but his personal values and his strong vision of a more peaceful and harmonious world are exactly in line with the MBBI ethos and goals.
“Mediation to me is synonymous with communication because it brings opportunity for people to share, from the mind and the heart, in a manner that the other person is going to hear them.”
From the Army to the NYPD
At the age of 17, Louis joined the army and was later deployed to Vietnam. In his view this exposure to the real nature of violent conflict, and the ways in which it impacts people (civilians and military personnel alike) allowed him to develop an understanding of the nature of peace. Here, he began to learn about the true nature of communication, how to truly listen, how to approach a situation without bias and prejudice and anger, skills that would serve him well his whole career.
When he left the army, Louis became a police officer with the NYPD in the Narcotics division. He also worked in Williamsburg, Brooklyn with the Neighborhood Police Team. Although he notes ‘the word mediation wasn’t in my vocabulary yet’, in this role he engaged with and built rapport with the locals and was able to build on his skills as a communicator; “I’m a believer in grassroots, in asking people ‘What can I do to help you?’ and that’s what I did when I walked the beat. I would ask people ‘What would you like police officers to do for you?’
A Career in Criminal Justice
After moving to Florida, Louis worked as a private investigator and earned his Master’s degree, and it was at this time when he began to learn about mediation – at the time and in Florida, it was primarily a field focused around domestic issues. As an expert in the criminal justice system, however, Louis looked for opportunities to apply mediation practices to changing the path of those involved in the justice system. He went on to work in North Carolina for six years as a mediator in the court system, practicing victim-offender mediation and what came to be called restorative justice. These practices work to disrupt a predetermined path that many arrested individuals fall into, of jail time and increased likelihood of recidivism, and allow people a chance to make amends for their mistakes and re-enter mainstream society.
Besides his years of work in victim-offender mediation, Louis is involved in two key programs that reflect his personal values as a peacebuilder and as a believer in restorative justice. The first is his local Veterans Treatment Court (VTC), something which he is personally involved in as a peacebuilder but also as a veteran himself. The VTC works with veterans who have been arrested to treat and address the root issues that lead them to be arrested. The two key aspects are mentorship and psychological help and treatment. The second program is Teen Court, which works with teen offenders to help them avoid a record and avoid recidivism. In this, a practice that is used in many places across the country, a real courtroom setting is operated by a group of teenagers, allowing for all involved to understand and form their own ideas of justice, fairness, and what it means to make amends. This work demonstrates Louis’ constant of always looking to the future – with this, his openness to new ideas, and his interest in climate change mediation, he demonstrates an ever-present curiosity and optimism.
From the outside, Louis certainly has an impressive resumé, but as an individual, it barely does him justice. He is his own innocence project, going out of his way to ensure that justice is done, and even has been arrested himself in the course of proving the innocence of a client. When you speak to him, he absolutely exudes calmness, patience, and an openness to the world around him. He recounts an incident that occurred when he was a police officer in which he talked down a woman holding a knife to her husband’s throat – something he did without force or the threat of force, something he did simply by listening to her and allowing her the space to be angry without judgment or fear. Dramatic stories of de-escalation are just the surface level demonstration of Louis’ deep, ingrained need to spread peace, and a bottomless well of patience and empathy.
Written by Lizzy Nestor: MBBI Writer