Reconciliation is a method of facilitating frank engagements between harmed communities, authorities, and other institutions that allows them to address grievances, misconceptions, and historical tensions, and reset relationships. It is way to bring people who have been excluded from systems in to reshape them. Law enforcement should work in partnership with and be accountable to those it serves. Instead, law enforcement has been the face of a long American history of legal abuse of minorities, beginning with the enforcement of slavery, and continuing through convict leasing, Jim Crow segregation, and mass incarceration. From lynchings through present-day gun violence, it has failed to protect Black communities from violence. At the same time, police tactics and behavior toward those same communities have often been discriminatory, disrespectful, or violent themselves. The aim of reconciliation is for communities and law enforcement to come to a position of respect and trust by recognizing real historical harms and experiences, building empathy, and finding common ground and a mutually supported way forward.
Reconciliation is an approach to repairing these relationships. Similar to what has been done in post-Apartheid South Africa and in the aftermath of military dictatorships and genocides, reconciliation is a way of naming the harms that have been done; for those who have done harm to acknowledge it; for the harmed to tell their stories and for their experiences to be honored; to take steps to repair those harms; and to facilitate sufficient trust and relationship so that a better way forward can be constructed. America has never faced its history and its racialized present and undertaken reconciliation.
The reconciliation process has these basic building blocks:
- Acknowledgement of harm by law enforcement leaders and other public officials
- Understanding harm by listening directly to the affected community and by creating a consensus record of past and present harms
- Repairing harm by taking steps to reduce the effects of harms already done and prevent them from repeating
- Ongoing impact by making concrete changes to public safety practices based on listening to and collaboration with communities most affected by violence and policing
This process is flexible and will vary from community to community, but it can create the kind of change we desperately need: reductions in police violence and misconduct, increases in community confidence, enhanced legitimacy and working relationships between communities and police, and a process that can support local thinking and action around what change should look like.
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