After the Apology Comes the Work!

“[We] acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color” — Chief Terrance Cunningham, President of the IACP.

apology-2Three years ago, Chief Kevin Murphy apologized to Congressman John Lewis for acts of his department years before the chief was born; when Montgomery police savagely (and illegally) assaulted John Lewis and other Freedom Riders when they got off the bus in Montgomery.

Fifty years later. Murphy apologized for not what his department had done. Thankfully, a demonstrating the man that he is, John Lewis accepted Murphy’s apology.

If you search for “apology” among my posts you will see how often I have tried to tackle this important step for our police. It’s an important part of what needs to happen.

Yesterday, Chief Terrance Cunningham, from Wellsley. Mass., and current president of the International Chiefs of Police (IACP), made such an apology at the annual meeting of our nation’s police chiefs in San Diego. He said that the first step in “changing the future” of that relationship was “for law enforcement and the IACP to acknowledge and apologize for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

Definitely well said. It made me proud of being a member of that organization. What Chief Cunningham said needed to be heard in these days — and in the days to come.

What’s next? As I have suggested, each and every police chief in America needs to have such a meeting and public apology before the work that needs to be done can begin. Apology is the key to solving the enormous and crippling problem of trust-loss.

However, the apology should not solely be about what has happened in the past, but what has consciously and unconsciously continued to occur. There’s the rub. It’s not just about yesterday, but also about today.

When I worked in the system, I knew about the past — slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining. I did not, however, truly understand that the system in which I worked also was oppressive and unfair to citizens of color.

After I retired, gained a deeper perspective and understanding of the problem. I came to see this more clearly through the recent works of Bryan Stevenson and Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Are you still with me? Look at this figure: “5/25.” We in America are 5% of the world’s population, yet we have within our prisons 25% of the world’s prisoners. In most of our cities (even Madison, Wisc. during my tenure) 40% of those arrested were African-Americans. What’s up? Why? Either people of color are inherently criminal or something is severely wrong with the system. My education, experiences, and faith leads me to believe the latter.

When a relationship, any relationship, is broken the first step in fixing it is to make a sincere, honest apology from the deepest part of one’s heart.

The second step is more difficult. I involves changing one’s behavior; acting in a more trust-worthy way. This takes time. It is no trite saying that a journey of a 1,000 steps begins with the first one.

The first step is now in play. Now our nation’s police must act in fair and respectful ways to all persons they serve — yes “serve.” What must be seen and experienced on the street is a change in behavior. Police must work more closely and intimately with their communities to better manage and reduce their use of deadly force. Of this I am very sure.

Here’s a video I made a couple of years ago on the problem and a solution…



  1. Bravo my good friend for following up and expanding on this beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness. Truly I believe that our societies not recognizing what law enforcement has gotten away with throughout the years HAS been the problem. So many untold lives stolen and families destroyed by an ancient hatred which still exists to this day. I commend TRUE and tremendously brave leaders like yourself, Kevin Murphy and the few other police leaders out there who “get” and understand WHY Black Lives do Matter. It is ridiculous that we still have to spell it out for the racists who will never understand, nor care for the genocidal history which has only come OUT INTO THE OPEN in this highly advanced technological age of ours. We must continue to beat the drums for the martyrs like Dr King and so many others who gave their lives so an enlightened discussion like this could one day occur.


  2. I struggle with this issue. If I truly believed an apology was due I would be the first to support that action. However, a blunt assessment of history does not necessitate an apology. Should we apologize to women for denying them the vote? Should we apologize to Indians for negotiating and then ignoring unjust treaties? The list of previous wrongs, victims, and transgressors runs ad infinitum……through history. In the reality of the lingering effects of previous wrongs there are many far more culpable than the police in America. Health outcomes for black Americans are far worse than those for whites. Who is demanding an apology from the American Medical Association? Education outcomes for black Americans lag behind those of whites. Who is demanding an apology from the American Education Association? There aren’t enough 1’s and 0’s to produce the digital signals necessary to list the politicians who expect everyone else to apologize but who are more responsible for the many problems we face than any currently serving police officer.

    When do we abandon the narrative of victimization and its underlying assumption that without an apology we are all just going to have to wallow in a pool of discontent? How about we get to work on solving problems instead of looking for someone to apologize to or someone who owes us an apology? The Holy Grail will be found before the later quest comes to an end.

    Rant over…….


  3. Arrest disparities are not evidence of bias. Liberals who decry conservative denial of climate science are more than happy to ignore science in their narrative of bias. There is evidence that different subcultures have different behaviors. There is valid evidence that blacks disproportionately fail to use automobile safety restraints and therefore suffer higher rates of injury and death in vehicle crashes. We say that we value diversity because it brings different experiences, perspectives, values, etc…. to the table. When some of those differences are plainly dysfunctional we deny that uncomfortable truth. We are dealing with humans, so why would we expect all differences to be functional? I recognize many of the decades distant antecedents of today’s conditions for minorities in America, but that doesn’t change the fact that by and large getting arrested is a result of committing a crime. If we believe the science of victimization surveys, and I do, then there are far too few of those arrests. Police is also a verb and we need to do more of it. Crime victims far outnumber victims of bias but the quest to brand policing as biased produces natural reluctance to police. When we no longer police where does that leave America’s minorities, who are disproportionately the victims of crime?


    1. As a trained sociologist in my younger days I realized that we all were “criminals”/deviants. If police had aggressively patrolled around my upper middle class neighborhood with “stop and frisk” tactics they has been the norm in many poor neighborhoods of color and for too many years, I can assure you that I would not have had a police career. Most everyone of us has done something in our life that could get us arrested according to many self-reported surveys on deviancy. Who gets surveilled, stopped, arrested and goes to jail/prison is quite clear to most of us. I understand where you are coming from, Mark. A recent excursion into a poor neighborhood by Alice Goffman (“On the Run:Fugitive Life in An American City”) strongly reminded me of this. Probably the closest I have come to living in a fairly color-blind community was my tour with the Marines.


  4. ” Liberals who decry conservative denial of climate science are more than happy to ignore science in their narrative of bias.”

    Oh really, Mr. Bowman, what about conservatives particularly those running corporations paying scientists to manipulate their information to suppress and denied the existence of climate change. If you have not been following the news for the last several months, it has been discovered that Exxon knew about the climate change back in the 1970s, but they had suppressed the report from their own scientists. Who is being biased now?

    If you don’t want America to apologizes to the various groups that have been mistreated, then Mr. Bowman, don’t start telling the rest of usto take responsibility for and be accountable for their own actions particularly when you have wealthy people and the police who will not owe up to what they have done.

    “How about we get to work on solving problems instead of looking for someone to apologize.”

    Well I don’t see the police, Republican Party, wealthy people, and our top corporate leaders wanting to solve problems. It is quite clear that they let the problems festers until it blows up in their faces and then they are looking for scapegoats to cover their butts.

    “When we no longer police where does that leave America’s minorities, who are disproportionately the victims of crime?”

    Well, the minorities of America have been the victims of white collar, corporate crimes aided and abetted by the corrupt politicians and the police and you don’t see the police doing anything about it. BTW, poor whites have also been the victim of white collar, corporate crimes with the support of the police. Corporate America, the police departments, and the wealthy people need to start paying reparations to the American public just like the Germans had to with the Jews after the war.


  5. “Arrest disparities are not evidence of bias.”

    Well when you look at the number of wealthy people and CEOs not being arrested for white collar, corporate crime to me that is evidence of bias. When you look at the number of wealthy people and CEOs who got the death penalty (which is zero) and compare to that of the poor people, that is evidence of bias when it comes to arrest disparities.

    When you look at the number of minorities and poor people being busted for drugs and compare to that of affluent white neighborhoods and/or people at Wall Street firms being busted for drug usage, that is evidence of bias. There is this former police officer who works now for the LEAP organization and he talk about how his task force was to lay off drug dealers and users in the affluent white neighborhoods or he would face the consequences if he did so and was told to concentrate on minorities, poor communities. That is evidence of bias when it comes to arrest disparities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.