Forgiveness and Healing, Agents of Change
We have all seen couples trapped in a bad marriage. These are unions where there is no trust, little love and even less respect. Divorce is not an option yet healing is never attempted. There is no desire to resolve difficulties or reconcile interest. They never touch or share intimacies and what little communication exists is used to tear and rend. The couple approach domestic relations like military campaigns. The motive is to win at all cost and to crush if not destroy the opposition in the process. They simply abhor one another and it shows.
This is the dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement and the minority community a drama once again played out, this time in McKinney Texas an affluent community just north of Dallas. The facts while relevant are almost beside the point. Change the circumstances any way you wish, the scenario is all too familiar.
An injury occurs via some negative interaction between the police and the community. The wound is then inflamed by immediate outrage and the unrelenting calls to do something. Hostility aided and abetted by media attention and outside forces soon follows.
Noise and confusion reigns as a thousand voices vie for attention. Well before the facts are determined or disseminated, these mouthpieces offer not solutions but flawed analysis, political agendas and biased comment. Rumors and misinformation hold sway as context and balance are sacrificed to sensational headlines, catch phrases and talking points.
Ultimately the inflammation becomes a fever where the search is not for justice, but retribution. This blood lust, this de rigueur thirst for revenge, this hunger for a pound of flesh, requires that someone pay. And like any sale, the higher the price the better, at least in the lose-lose environment of race politics.
Villains are sought, fault is found and blame is assigned. Hardly the bravest of souls and hoping to deflect attention from themselves, public officials select some sacrificial lamb; some per functionary to throw under the bus, a much cheaper form of payment than changing a warped set of values, discriminatory policies and faulty procedures.
And because the truth is infinitely mutable; a malleable play-dough that we bend, twist and mutilate to fit our own perceptions and interests, we see only what we wish to see, believe that what we want to believe, the facts be damned. So we dig in our respective heels, resulting in further polarization and the stiffening of positions that are already rock hard.
At the end of the day nothing changes. We merely lurch form one incident to the next. Before McKinney there was Ferguson and Baltimore. Before them there were others. And afterwards there will be yet another incident involving another community and then another and yet another.
We are pleased that McKinney did not erupt in violence. To the leaders of the protest, especially the clergy, we say well done.
But McKinney provides no template for future disturbances. Unlike Ferguson and Baltimore, no one died. Equally significant, McKinney is an upscale community, with a small minority population. Blessed with beautiful homes, low unemployment and no urban blight, it has repeatedly been deemed as one of the most livable cities in the country.
Still, the McKinney incident is not without negative consequences. Lawsuits will fly and settlements will be made as many will line up to get paid.
And even though the city remained calm, the incident and our response to it has poured salt in old wounds. A review of social media reveals the worsening of intolerance and racism. Some have even lost their jobs and income merely for expressing an opinion.
We cannot long continue on this path to mutual destruction. Like the marriage referenced above, divorce is not an option. We can not separate ourselves from each other or the police. And a zero sum game where one side wins everything and the other loses everything means that we all lose. We therefore propose a new tactical approach.
Rather than anger and conflict, bitterness and resentment, marches and protests, a strategy that embraces forgiveness, healing and reconciliation would serve us well. We therefore ask that the black community reach out to the McKinney officer in question.
We do not argue that the officer’s behavior was in any way acceptable. And it is rumored that this is not his first indiscretion. Nor do we contend that those who harm others should escape justice.
But the officer has already been made to pay. He is not only jobless but may well have forfeited his career. “When an officer leaves a police department, the department fills out an F-5 separation form with the state. Said form is available to all police departments to do background checks of potential applicants. Needless to say, resignation under investigation does not look good on the form. See the Dallas Morning News, “Fallout for the Police Officer”, Thursday June 11, 2015, p. 2A.
In addition, both he and his family have endured death threats. He also faces the possibility of criminal charges.
Some will applaud these developments as just desserts. Others may contend that the tactics of forgiveness and reconciliation are ineffective signs of naivety and weakness; an example of “coonery”, African-Americans endeavoring to appease and entertain the white power structure often via a policy of self-abasement. We however take a different view.
First, it is highly unlikely that the officer will face criminal prosecution, his over-the-top conduct notwithstanding. And while a criminal prosecution might make some feel good, it does not resolve the problems we face. It simply slakes our thirst for revenge.
Second, healing and forgiveness are powerful agents of social change. Had Lincoln not embraced the South at the end of the Civil War, the nation would have remained asunder. But for the forgiveness of those who beat and abused the Civil Rights icons, the Movement would have faltered. And the dismantling of Apartheid in South Africa would have never occurred had not Nelson Mandela forgiven his jailers.
Hence, to forgive is not an act of weakness. Rather, it is an example of insight, wisdom and courage that bestows the moral high ground upon those who forgive while disarming those who don’t.
In conclusion, the universe returns that which it receives. If we are to receive justice, understanding and compassion we must first give them. And while we must demand accountability and the change of adverse policies and procedures, healing both old and new wounds is the way to move forward. To employ the principles of healing and forgiveness as agents of social change is to reaffirm our worth, strength and nobility.
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum