This Country Needs A Truth And Reconciliation Process on Violence Against African Americans—Right Now

America has a long history of violence against black citizens. What response can disrupt patterns set by centuries of racism?


Published:

YES! photo by Lane Hartwell.

I am among the millions who have experienced the shock, grief, and fury of losing someone to racial violence.

When I was 15, two close friends were killed in the Birmingham Sunday School bombing carried out by white supremacists trying to terrorize the rising civil rights movement. Only six years later, my husband was shot and nearly killed by police who broke into our home, all because of our activism at the time, especially in support of the Black Panthers.

As a civil rights trial lawyer, I’ve spent much of my professional life protecting people from racial discrimination. In my early twenties, I devoted myself to organizing an international movement to defend my sister, Angela Davis, from politically motivated capital murder charges aimed at silencing her calls for racial and social justice. Early childhood experiences in the South set me on a quest for social transformation, and I’ve been a community organizer ever since, from the civil rights to the black power, women’s, anti-racial violence, peace, anti-apartheid, anti-imperialist, economic justice, political prisoner movements, and others.

After more than three decades of all the fighting, I started to feel out of balance and intuitively knew I needed more healing energies in my life. I ended up enrolling in a Ph.D. program in Indigenous Studies that allowed me to study with African healers.

Today, my focus is on restorative justice, which I believe offers a way for us to collectively face this epidemic, expose its deep historical roots, and stop it.

The killings of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York have sparked a national outcry to end the epidemic killings of black men. Many note that even if indictments had been handed down, that wouldn’t have been enough to stop the carnage. The problem goes far beyond the actions of any police officer or department. The problem is hundreds of years old, and it is one we must take on as a nation. Truth and reconciliation processes offer the greatest hope.

Truth And Reconciliation In Ferguson And Beyond

A Ferguson Truth and Reconciliation process based on restorative justice (RJ) principles could not only stop the epidemic but also allow us as a nation to take a first “step on the road to reconciliation,” to borrow a phrase from the South African experience.

A restorative justice model means that youth, families, and communities directly affected by the killings—along with allies—would partner with the federal government to establish a commission. Imagine a commission that serves as a facilitator, community organizer, or Council of Elders to catalyze, guide, and support participatory, inclusive, and community-based processes.

We know from experience that a quasi-legal body of high-level experts who hold hearings, examine the evidence, and prepare findings and recommendations telling us as a nation what we need to do won’t work. We’ve had plenty of those.

To move toward a reconciled America, we have to do the work ourselves. Reconciliation is an ongoing and collective process. We must roll up our sleeves and do the messy, challenging, but hopeful work of creating transformed relationships and structures leading us into new futures. Someone like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who headed up South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, might come to Ferguson to inspire and guide us as we take the first steps on this journey.

And the impact wouldn’t be for Ferguson alone. Unfolding in hubs across the nation, a Truth and Reconciliation process could create safe public spaces for youth, families, neighbors, witnesses, and other survivors to share their stories. Though this will happen in hubs, the truths learned and the knowledge gained would be broadly shared. Importantly, the process would also create skillfully facilitated dialogue where responsible parties engage in public truth-telling and take responsibility for wrongdoing.

Getting To The Roots

Today, teenagers of color are coming of age in a culture that criminalizes and demonizes them, and all too often takes their lives.

I work with youth in Oakland, where it’s gut-wrenching to see the trauma and devastation up close. Black youth in the U.S. are fatally shot by police at 21 times the rate of white youth. Children of color are pushed through pipelines to prison instead of being put on pathways to opportunity. Some make it through this soul-crushing gauntlet against all odds. But too many do not.

Defining how long- and far-reaching a process like this would be is difficult because, sadly, the killing of Mike Brown is only one instance in a long and cyclical history of countless unhealed racial traumas that reaches all the way back to the birth of this nation. Changing form but not essence over four centuries, this history has morphed from slavery to the Black Codes, peonage and lynching, from Jim Crow to convict leasing, to mass incarceration and deadly police practices.

Bearing in mind its expansive historical context, the Truth and Reconciliation process would set us on a collective search for shared truths about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of extrajudicial killings of black youth, say, for the last two decades. Through the process, those truths will be told, understood, and made known far and wide. Its task would also include facing and beginning to heal the massive historical harms that threaten us all as a nation but take the lives of black and brown children especially. We would utilize the latest insights and methodologies from the field of trauma healing.

This is urgent. Continued failure to deal with our country’s race-based historical traumas dooms us to perpetually re-enact them.

Though national in scope, the inquiry would zero in on the city of Ferguson and several other key cities across the country that have been the site of extrajudicial killings during the last decade. Specifics like this are best left to a collaborative, inclusive, and community-based planning process.

The process will create public spaces where we face together the epidemic of killings and its root causes, identify the needs and responsibilities of those affected, and also figure out what to do as a nation to heal harms and restore relationships and institutions to forge a new future.

Truth And Reconciliation Works

There are precedents for this approach: Some 40 Truth and Reconciliation Commissions have been launched worldwide to transform historical and mass social harms such as those we are facing. Their experiences could help light a way forward.

The best-known example is the 1994 South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was charged with exposing and remedying apartheid’s human rights abuses. Under the guidance of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission elevated apartheid victims’ voices, allowing the nation to hear their stories. Perpetrators had a means to engage in public truth-telling about and take responsibility for the atrocities they committed. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission facilitated encounters between harmed and responsible parties, decided amnesty petitions, and ordered reparations, and it recommended official apologies, memorials, and institutional reform to prevent recurrence.

With near-constant live coverage by national television networks, the attention of the nation was riveted on the process. Although South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was far from perfect, it is internationally hailed for exposing apartheid’s atrocities and evoking a spirit of reconciliation that helped the country transcend decades of racial hatred and violence.

There are North American examples as well, including the 2004 Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission in North Carolina, the first in the United States. This effort focused on the “Greensboro massacre” of anti-racist activists by the Ku Klux Klan in 1979.

In 2012, Maine’s governor and indigenous tribal chiefs established a truth commission to address the harms resulting from the forced assimilation of Native children by Maine’s child welfare system. It is still in operation.

And Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, also still functioning, addresses legacies of Indian residential schools that forcibly removed Aboriginal children from their homes, punished them for honoring their language and traditions, and subjected them to physical and sexual abuse.

Get To The Truth, Get To Healing

Like South Africa’s and others, the Ferguson Truth and Reconciliation process would draw on the principles of restorative justice. Rooted in indigenous teachings, for some 40 years the international RJ movement has been creating safe spaces for encounters between persons harmed and persons responsible for harm, including their families and communities. These encounters encourage participants to get to truth, address needs, responsibilities, and root causes, make amends, and forge different futures through restored relationships based upon mutual respect and recognition.

Restorative justice is founded on a worldview that affirms our participation in a vast web of interrelatedness. It sees crimes as acts that rupture the web, damaging the relationship not only between the individuals directly involved but also vibrating out to injure relationships with families and communities. The purpose of RJ is to repair the harm caused to the whole of the web, restoring relationships to move into a brighter future.

Applied to schools, communities, the justice system, and to redress mass social harm and create new futures, restorative justice is increasingly being recognized internationally. In Oakland, California, where I co-founded and direct Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth (RJOY), school-based programs are eliminating violence, reducing racial disparity in discipline, slashing suspension rates, dramatically boosting academic outcomes, and creating pathways to opportunity instead of pipelines to incarceration. These outcomes are documented in a 2010 study by UC Berkeley Law School and a soon-to-be-released report by the school district. Oakland’s RJ youth diversion pilot is interrupting racialized mass incarceration strategies and reducing recidivism rates to 15 percent. (Based on discussions with folks who run the program—no studies as yet.)

Police and probation officers are being trained in RJ principles and practices. Youth and police are sitting together in healing circles, and creating new relationships based on increased trust and a mutual recognition of one another’s humanity.

It’s impossible to predict whether similar outcomes would emerge from a Truth and Reconciliation process in Ferguson—and the United States. But it’s our best chance. And, if history is any guide, it could result in restitution to those harmed, memorials to the fallen, including films, statues, museums, street renamings, public art, or theatrical re-enactments. It might also engender calls to use restorative and other practices to stop violence and interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline and mass incarceration strategies. New curricula could emerge that teach both about historic injustices and movements resisting those injustices. Teach-ins, police trainings, restorative policing practices, and police review commissions are also among the universe of possibilities.

In the face of the immense terrain to be covered on the journey toward a more reconciled America, no single process will be enough. However, a Ferguson Truth and Reconciliation process could be a first step towards reconciliation. It could put us on the path of a new future based on more equitable structures and with relationships founded on mutual recognition and respect. It could also serve as a prototype to guide future truth and reconciliation efforts addressing related epidemics such as domestic violence, poverty, the school-to-prison pipeline, and mass incarceration. A Ferguson Truth and Reconciliation Commission could light the way into a new future.

Fania Davis wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas and practical actions. Fania is a civil rights attorney and co-founder and executive director of RJOY, Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth. She also has a Ph.D. in Indigenous Studies. She wishes to acknowledge discussions with Professor Jennifer Llewellyn, the Viscount Bennett Professor of Law at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. Professor Llewellyn has worked with the South African and Canadian TRC’s and writes and researches on restorative justice and truth and reconciliation processes.

See also:
Weekly Musings: America’s Greatness Will Never Include Racism
‘Too Many Times To Count’: My Experiences Of Racism At The University Of Missouri

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

February 23, 2019

The morning hours may see unexpected complications and detours. If you’re operating a car, keep a safe distance between your own and other vehicles. Wayfarers may stumble upon intriguing garage sales and flea markets. Even conventional markets are likely…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

February 2019

Celebrating The Love And Valentine’s Week! Come detox, relax and get your romance or couples readings while you recharge in our sanctuary! We have a fun line up of readers and healers...

Cost: 3 service special - $60, single service- $25

Where:
The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Unit A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Our outer world is a reflection of what lies within our collective inner worlds. By directing our thoughts in specific, positive ways, we have the potential to guide the world towards becoming a...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02138
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Three weekly workshops with Ayal will be offered on February 10, 17, 24 from 10:30 to 11:30am In this meeting, we will talk about sleep and remind or teach simple techniques for an easier...

Cost: $20

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

MBSR: Mindful Based Stress Reduction Learn how to tap into your inner well of strength, peace, and ease. Mindfulness, as taught in the MBSR program, is recognized worldwide as the gold...

Cost: Free

Where:
Enlightened Interventions
25 Union St.
Worcester, MA  01608
View map »


Sponsor: The Center for Resilient Living
Telephone: 508-556-7022
Contact Name: Ginny Wholley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Wednesday, February 20th–Saturday, February 23rd 9am-3pm each day Experience transformation guided by Mother Mary. Through Divine vibration, you will be aligned for quicker healing and...

Cost: $500

Where:
, MA


Sponsor: The LoveLight Center
Telephone: (207) 216-9584
Contact Name: Cheryl Banfield

More information

Discover how you can release tight muscles and improve range of motion in locked joints in a weekly ESSENTRICS stretch classes led by Raindrop Fisher, certified Essentrics instructor. Raindrop is a...

Cost: $10 drop-in / $100 for 12 classes

Where:
Village at Waterman Lake
Function Room - Chalet Bldg
715 Putnam Pike
Greenville, RI  02828
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

ESSENTRICS with Raindrop is a dynamic, one-hour, slow-movement stretch and strengthening class that uses all the muscles of the body to liberate stiff joints and rebalancing the body so that you...

Cost: $5 donation

Where:
Pascoag Public Library
57 Church Street
Pascoag, RI  02859
View map »


Sponsor: Healthier Fit Lifestyle
Telephone: 401-678-0950
Contact Name: Raindrop Fisher
Website »

More information

This 8 week series in Tai Chi will provide you with everything you need to get started in a personal Tai Chi practice. Just for Beginners—there is no expectation, and no pressure in...

Cost: $137 for 8 weeks

Where:
Spiral Path Connections
218 Boston Street
Unit 104
Topsfield, MA  01983
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiral Path
Telephone: 978-314-4264
Contact Name: Johanna Hattendorf
Website »

More information

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the...

Cost: $30 (some hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen Howell, M.Ed.LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Great readings at a great rate - only $20 for 15 minutes. Join us for a great day with lots of specials too! Featuring Amit’s Tibetan Singing Bowls and Silver Jewelry Sale!...

Cost: $20 for a 15 minute reading

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

This workshop will be a wonderful and interactive experience for parents and their child. You will:  1. Learn the importance of developing focus through basic mindfulness exercises....

Cost: $40

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Join us as we herald in the month of love with the archangels! It will be an evening of healing and soul replenishment. Our event will open with a brief message of love and support from the...

Cost: $40

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

6 Saturdays 10am–11:30am February 23–March 30, 2019 Taijiquan (Tai Chi ) is a healing martial art, using breath and movement together to strengthen the body and quiet...

Cost: $120

Where:
Metta Wellness
679 Pleasant Street
Paxton, MA  01612
View map »


Sponsor: Metta Wellness
Telephone: 774-245-5487
Contact Name: Rick Rocha
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags