Apology from police chief opens door for peaceful discourse

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The making of the U.S. comes with its fair share of violence in the name of justice and equality. No matter how far back one looks, law and authority play a pivotal role in just how peaceful — or violent — a protest can be.

On Monday, Terrence M. Cunningham, chief of police in Wellesley, Massachusetts, spoke at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in San Diego. Cunningham began his statement by acknowledging law enforcement’s recently turbulent relationship with the public before delving into the history of police oppression.  

“There have been times when law enforcement officers, because of the laws enacted by federal, state, and local governments, have been the face of oppression for far too many of our fellow citizens,” Cunningham said. “In the past, the laws adopted by our society have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks, such as ensuring legalized discrimination or even denying the basic rights of citizenship to many of our fellow Americans.”

Take responsibility

It’s refreshing to see law enforcement begin to take responsibility. While minorities often hear, “Well, if he complied, he’d be alive today” or “The officer did what he had to do,” cops are people with personal biases and beliefs, too.

They are human, and the simple acknowledgment of that is novel and wonderful.

For a major law enforcement organization to issue an apology for their role in the “historical mistreatment” of minorities is a huge step toward mending the gap between communities of color and individuals meant to protect them.

Creating a better future for the next generation is imperative, but it cannot be done without sorting out the past. The U.S. has a history of brutality and injustice toward minorities that cannot be ignored; to do so would only cause more of a rift.

“While this is no longer the case,” Cunningham said, “this dark side of our shared history has created a multi-generational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”

Cunningham’s statement touched on a topic that is so important to every community of color. Minority communities want to feel safe, valued and protected by the very people that have pledged to do so.

It would be impossible to achieve equilibrium when both sides don’t take responsibility for their own wrongdoings.

The black community is absolutely aware of their own issues. In places like Chicago, where there are feelings of hopelessness and despair in poverty-stricken communities, there is bound to be some violence.

Change can be made

Instead of pointing out black-on-black violence to steer the conversation away from police shootings, as politicians often do, Cunningham’s statement showed that police are aware of it and are willing to extend an olive branch and connect with minorities.

“While we obviously cannot change the past, it is clear that we must change the future. We must move forward together to build a shared understanding,” Cunningham said. “We must forge a path that allows us to move beyond our history and identify common solutions to better protect our communities. For our part, the first step in this process is 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.”

The statement concluded with Cunningham calling for law enforcement and minority communities to work together to “build a better and safer future for us all.”

It’s hopeful and positive, but most of all, enlightening. 

U.S. history is filled with darkness and oppression, but the future doesn’t have to be that way. There’s more to this country than racism and corruption.

Cunningham represents the officers that put their lives on the line for their community and work toward improvement. His statement is a beacon of light during a dark moment in our society when the blame game has become a well-established tradition.  

Perhaps if we follow that light, the U.S. can finally begin to heal.

Opinion Columnist Caprice Carter is a communication junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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