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What good is an apology?

The head of the International Association of Chiefs of Police issued an apology this week to the minorities across the nation for their mistreatment at the hands of police departments during the last century. He spoke of how trust has been undermined and how police action has exacerbated tension between officers and the communities they are supposed to "protect and serve."

He spoke of the long history of the police enforcing written laws that led them to perform "unpalatable tasks." Apparently he did not point to specific examples of police engaging in these "tasks" but they would include a long list of horrific incidents where police enforced the brutal and often unwritten "Jim Crow" laws of the post-Reconstruction South, and the innumerable cases of modern police departments, like those of New York City, engaging in unspeakable brutality against individuals in communities of color.

An official in the ACLU commended the Chief for admitting the wrongs that have been done in the name of the law by law enforcement because one of the current problems is that of denial. Many officers and their departments still have difficulty understanding the role they have had in over-policing, mass incarceration, misconduct, brutality and the vast damage this has done to these communities.

Of course, concrete action that would address some of the misconduct and injustice would go a long way towards making the sentiments of the Chief real. None of this will be easy to address, but having the police admit that they have been the instrument of much of the injustice may help bring change to the police departments these chiefs represent.

Changes to the legal standards that could be used to hold officers accountable could be one such real change. One reason so few officers are successfully brought to justice is that much police misconduct is insulated by an unrealistic standard.

Communities grow distrustful when one who kills a cop is automatically sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty, yet when a cop kills an innocent, unarmed individual too often charges are not even brought.

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