Are we there? Does the endless litany of police murders of young, and not so young, black men, and the arrest and detention of so many more, require the deep, horrendous revisiting that comes with hearings like those held in South Africa? Yes, says The Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion:
The establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inspired by the process that took place in South Africa, will allow us to develop an appropriate understanding of past injustices and to envision constructive remedies to create a new regional culture of fairness, equal opportunity and improved prosperity.
South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, conducted after the end of Apartheid, were dramatic, traumatic, hideous and brilliant. Hideous because of the brutality of the testimony – brutal because Apartheid was brutal, and brilliant for their courage and honesty. In Country of my Skull, her gripping account of the hearings, reporter Antjie Krog describes post-traumatic stress that sent not only the accused and the witnesses but also the reporters and judges, into trauma therapy. It was simply unbearable to hear. And those who testified and listened, bore the unbearable, helped to defuse a rage that would have consumed the country.
Are things that bad here? No. Here, in theory, the law exists to protect Americans against the behavior that Apartheid institutionalized. Even so, the torrent of agony and sadness and anger of the past weeks is evidence that the current reality is often unbearable – and should not have to be borne. That reality includes an ever-growing list of dead black men, day after day after day, in WalMart, on the street, in a police car, a park, a back yard. Countless more detained, humiliated and released.
TV Producer Charles Belk, wrongfully detained.
Today, an additional outrage arose in the story about TV producer Charles Belk, (left) arrested, handcuffed and detained in Beverly Hills for several hours as a suspect who looked nothing like him (except of course, that they are both black.)
Now it turns out that although the arrest was flawed and he was never arraigned, he has an arrest record that will, according to local attorneys, probably never go away. Accomplished and with considerable power, on his way to an Emmy event, it (even) happened to him. If he’s ever stopped again, or if someone searches the law enforcement database for some other reason, his name will come up, even though he was completely innocent. He’s “in the system.” The law set him free, but racism got him arrested in the first place and left him with a record.
So. When we read of proposed reconciliation commissions, whose power lies not in their conclusions but in what they uncover as perpetrator (usually law enforcement) and victim (if they have survived) face one another, and what happens after that, we can’t just write off the idea.
Although all the recent reported incidents involve law enforcement (and yes, there are also many great police officers, we know that), so many other parts of our culture are in need of attention. Jobs, housing, shopping (even the president remembers being followed by sales staff in stores to make sure he didn’t steal something) education, culture, journalism, and the intangibles – someone grabbing on to their purse when you pass, or crossing the street, being quietly insulting … and in all of them, perception, so far from the truth.
So what do we think? Is our country, in its current self-occupied, nasty mood, capable of even considering such an idea, allowing a commission to be led as Bishop Tutu led South Africa’s? Do we have leaders with the wisdom and credibility to hold such a thing together. And would we recognize such a person if they were in our midst? AND can we be ready for this:
Bishop Tutu (L) with Nelson Mandela
I hope that the work of the Commission, by opening wounds to cleanse them, will thereby stop them from festering. We cannot be facile and say bygones will be bygones, because they will not be bygones and will return to haunt us. True reconciliation is never cheap, for it is based on forgiveness which is costly. Forgiveness in turn depends on repentance, which has to be based on an acknowledgement of what was done wrong, and therefore on disclosure of the truth. You cannot forgive what you do not know… Bishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, on his appointment as Chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, November 1995
Thanks to Chris Rabb for spotlighting Professor Sheila A. Bedi’s post on this issue.