Police departments across the nation are facing a crisis of legitimacy. The views of Black Americans toward the police have been formed by hundreds of years of violence and abuse, beginning with the enforcement of slavery, Jim Crow laws, and lynchings, and continuing through to today’s killings of unarmed Black individuals by police officers. Their alienation is further fueled by high levels of intrusive policing tactics (such as stop-and-frisk) and disrespectful behavior by police, and compounded by mass incarceration, which has had an extraordinarily disproportionate impact on Black communities. Black people live their lives afraid for themselves, afraid for their children, afraid of the police, stifled by the justice system, and watching themselves killed by the police. They live not only with that present, but informed by the legacy of that history.
“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. Reconciliation takes 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.
Police-community reconciliation is the structured process that law enforcement and community use to:
- acknowledge and address the past;
- build relationships founded on mutual trust, empathy, and understanding;
- use ongoing and collaborative policy and practice change to
- repair harms and
- create the trust and relationship necessary to create sustained change
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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