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…