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“Tell her Capt. Johnson is sorry and he apologizes.”

by Cynthia Alkon
August 2014

ADR Prof Blog by Andrea Schneider, Michael Moffitt, Sarah Cole,Art Hinshaw, Jill Gross and Cynthia Alkon.

Cynthia Alkon

Five days ago, an unarmed eighteen year old, Michael Brown, was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. As is all too commonly the situation, Mr. Brown was African American and the police officer who did the shooting (as with most of the police in Ferguson) was white. An investigation is on-going, but the reports of what happened are disturbing enough that there have been protests since Mr. Brown’s death. For five nights those protests turned violent and ugly. Police officers have fired tear gas into the crowds. They have arrested people. Police Officers in combat gear faced off against demonstrators in scenes that looked more like something from apartheid South Africa or the Jim Crow South. From my vantage point many miles, and several states away, it looked like the police response was inciting violence, not quelling it.

That changed today when the governor of Missouri put Capt. Johnson, of the Missouri Highway Patrol in charge. What a difference a day can make. Johnson is using basic dispute resolution techniques we all recognize. He is listening. He is talking with, not at, the demonstrators. He is standing and walking with them. And, he is acknowledging mistakes. One man asked Johnson what he would say to his niece who had been tear-gassed during the demonstrations. Johnson didn’t say, “well, those men weren’t under my command” (which they weren’t). He didn’t say, “well, that won’t happen now” (which we can hope it won’t). He gave a simple, not qualified, apology: “Tell her Capt. Johnson is sorry and he apologizes.”

It is not surprising that listening, talking, and an apology can go a long way to diffuse a conflict. It is surprising it has taken five days to do these very simple things. I can only hope that today’s change of tone and actions by the new police captain in charge in Ferguson, Missouri, will help to bring peace as the shooting is investigated.

Biography


Cynthia Alkon joined the faculty at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law in 2010. She was an assistant professor of law at the Appalachian School of Law from 2006-2010. Prior to joining academia, Professor Alkon was a criminal defense lawyer and worked in rule of law development in Eastern Europe and Central Asia focusing on criminal justice reform issues.  Professor Alkon worked for nearly seven years as a deputy public defender in Los Angeles County.  Professor Alkon then joined the American Bar Association Central and East European Law Initiative working as a Rule of Law Liaison in Belarus for two years (1998-2000). After Belarus Professor Alkon was the head of the legal department for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Albania. From 2002-2006 Professor Alkon was the Head of the Rule of Law Unit for the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (OSCE/ODIHR). In that position Professor Alkon supervised the OSCE/ODIHR Rule of Law Unit’s criminal justice reform assistance projects in Central Asia, the Caucasus and Eastern Europe.   

Professor Alkon’s scholarship focuses on criminal dispute resolution, comparative criminal procedure and rule of law reform. Professor Alkon looks critically at current rule of law reform programs and is particularly interested in examining how different dispute resolution processes in criminal cases may contribute to rule of law development in countries in transition. Professor Alkon is a contributor to Indisputably.org, a member of the Law Professor Blogs Network.



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Website: law.txwes.edu/Faculty/FacultyProfiles/CynthiaAlkon/tabid/1458/Default.aspx

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