Well, it’s a start.
Yesterday, Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass, delivered remarks to a conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, formally apologizing “for the actions of the past and the role that our profession has played in society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.” The IACP is the nation’s largest police association.
It was a bold leadership move. Though his speech has already drawn mixed reviews, it was a clear-throated and public expression of remorse and accountability.
Cunningham acknowledged the tremendous tension between law enforcement and communities of color, marked by the recent, high-profile deaths of both citizens and police, and years of public protests. While there is nobility in policing, he also noted that the “darker periods” in the country’s past, “have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks…While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies."
One of those dark periods certainly involves racial terror lynching, the extra-judicial torture and murder of African-American citizens during the Jim Crow era. More than 64% of victims had been seized from jails. “I'm very encouraged by the apology offered by Chief Cunningham,” Bryan Stevenson, the founder of the Alabama-based Equal Justice Initiative, said in an email to Fortune. “After centuries of silence and decades of denial and defiance, an informed, sincere apology can be critically important in building trust and understanding with communities of color.”
Genuine remorse, he says, is essential.
Stevenson is looking to see more of it. Last year, the EJI documented over 4,000 lynchings and is building a national lynching memorial and related museum. “When we erect markers at lynching sites, we hope law enforcement leaders will similarly express regret about how uniformed officers failed communities of during the era of racial terror with the hope that a new era of trust can emerge,” says Stevenson.
Congressman Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee’s primarily African-American Ninth District, also knows some things about remorse. He led the way when the U.S. House of Representatives formally apologized in 2008 to African-Americans for slavery and the legalized racism of the Jim Crow era, one of only five formal apologies ever issued by the U.S. He’d been trying since 1997.
“I know that there are ramifications that I see in my district because of Jim Crow laws and slavery,” he told NPR in 2008. “I, as a young man, saw the segregated South. I just think it's a stain on our society… and I felt it was something the United States ought to do...I think history is important. I think statements are important and I wanted to pursue it, and I'm proud that I did.”
But after praising Cunningham’s apology and the leadership of the IAC, Cohen told raceAhead that more action is needed. He cites several specific measures that he believes could make a difference, like having independent prosecutors investigate police instances of deadly force. “Expecting local prosecutors to prosecute the same police officers upon whom they rely to do their job presents a clear conflict of interest,” he says.
Cohen, a Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice, has been pressing for better data collection in policing, specifically for “in custody” deaths, for some time. “We must also collect accurate and comprehensive statistics on police action so we can fully understand the nature of this problem."
Report: Police facial-ID technology racially profiles citizens
African-Americans are more likely than others to have their images scanned, analyzed and reviewed during database searches for crime suspects. The report, from Georgetown Law’s Center for Privacy & Technology, found that more than half of all U.S. adults have their pictures in a facial recognition database. Typically, the police can search these databases with no restrictions.
A black man’s “humiliating” arrest recorded by bystander
A black pedestrian in one of Minnesota’s wealthiest suburbs was stopped by an officer in an unmarked police car for walking in the street. The man said he'd stepped briefly off the curb to avoid sidewalk construction and stayed close to the side of the road. The resulting encounter ended in the arrest of the man, and the now viral video has become the latest symbol of police harassment and overreach.
Project Include’s Ellen Pao calls out Peter Thiel
Tech investor Peter Thiel recently upped his support of Donald Trump’s candidacy with a $1.25 million donation, despite the candidate’s embrace of bigotry, sexism and vague calls for violence. Money is power, says Pao. So, “giving more power to someone whose ascension and behavior strike fear into so many people is unacceptable.”
Top New York law firms report dismal diversity numbers
A new report from the NY Bar Association shows a shocking underrepresentation of women and people of color at many of the most profitable firms, and turnover rates are abysmal. One leadership snapshot: “Minorities” represent 8.4% of partners and 7% of practice heads, and have 7.1% representation on management committees. Fifty-nine percent of firms have no minorities on their management committees.
A Google diversity executive says leadership is about understanding others
Chuck Stephens, Google's head of diversity and inclusion for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, recently spoke at Virgin’s Disruptor conference, saying leaders need to understand how the people on their team experience work. One example: “We learned that African Americans are largely socialized in the US that asking for help is a sign of weakness,” he says. So, if they’re now in a company where working brilliantly means asking for help and engaging with others, how are they going to be successful?
Hey DC elites: Pay your interns to change the country
A new non-partisan advocacy group called Pay Our Interns says that if you want to encourage a more diverse government, start by offering paid internships throughout the beltway. The most coveted roles are typically unpaid, and are out of reach for anyone without connections or wealthy parents.
The Woke Leader
Artist Molly Crabapple brings the history of lynching to life
This short, animated video marries the illustrations of artist Molly Crabapple with wrenching facts to tell the history of lynching in America. Bryan Stevenson narrates. It's a terrible story, beautifully told.
When you walk in New York, the world is all around you
“Would you like to do a good deed?” So begins a gorgeous essay from Buzzfeed contributor Garnette Cadogan, about how a simple question turned a walk through his neighborhood into a series of experiences with people very different from himself. Every immigrant, every person, becomes connected to him within the shared experience of a few city blocks. “I answered yes, and he made a sharp turn and said, ‘Follow me.’”
The face of public art of Valparaiso, Chile
It’s still illegal to paint on walls in the coastal city of Valparaiso, and I suppose that’s part of what makes the need to tag so alluring. These powerful, yet unofficial murals, show a city that is fast becoming a cultural destination and has developed a curmudgeonly acceptance of its graffiti artists. Their passion is portraiture, the stories they tell are their own.