Big-City DAs Form Commissions to Help Heal From Racial Injustice

Newly elected San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. (chesaboudin.com via Flickr)

(CN) — District attorneys in three major American cities will host truth and reconciliation commissions intent on giving voice to citizens who have suffered from police violence or prosecutorial overreach. 

San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin, Suffolk County, Massachusetts, DA Racheal Rollins and Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner announced a partnership with the Grassroots Law Project to host a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission in their cities. 

“Prosecutors have a special responsibility to promote justice and reconciliation with the communities whose needs have historically been neglected,” Boudin said in a statement.  “In San Francisco we are working to not only enact changes and create policies that hold police accountable going forward, but also to build trust with those who have been hurt by the lack of police accountability in the past.”

The formation of such commissions comes as the nation grapples with racial inequities in the criminal justice system. The Grassroots Law Project was co-founded by Shaun King, one of the nation’s most prominent critics of how policing in America unfairly targets black communities in the United States. 

“People see the pain the system causes, and how little justice oppressed communities actually get, and conclude that it’s broken, but the truth is much more nefarious,” King said in a statement. “This system is not broken. It’s functioning exactly the way those who designed and built it intended it to function.”

Boudin, Krasner and Rollins all recently became the top cop in their respective jurisdictions on promises to revamp their offices and hold police accountable for their deficiencies or abuses. 

Boudin is the son of two members of the Weather Underground, the radical left-wing militant organization active in the 1960s and the 1970s. His parents were arrested for their role in a bank robbery in which a guard was killed, and he has said his repeated visits to his parents in prison gave him a unique perception on the criminal justice system. 

“We are honored by the opportunity to be part of this initiative to heal the wounds created by police abuse, to empower impacted communities, and to seek real justice for all,” Boudin said. 

Truth and reconciliation commissions have been employed throughout recent history as a means to allow those oppressed by political systems to air their grievances, tell their stories and achieve a reconciliation with the current culture that allows all parties to move forward. 

The first known commission was created by Argentina in 1983 to look into political disappearances during the military dictatorships of the 1970s. The commission issued a report titled Nunca Mas, or Never Again.

Perhaps the most famous example of a truth and reconciliation commission occurred in South Africa in the aftermath of apartheid. The commission was formed in 1995 and offered immunity to those who detailed the extent of their human rights violations. It was also an effort to heal the grievous wounds of the country, provide dignity for victims and allow the country to move forward to a more racially harmonious future envisioned by Nelson Mandela. 

Truth and reconciliation commissions have been used extensively throughout Africa to help broach peace and amicably between warring factions in given countries. 

Canada recently used a similar format to explore its legacy of putting Native children in boarding schools where they were enculturated and often abused. 

All three prosecutors say the criminal justice system has levied tremendous amounts of abuse on black communities within their purview. 

“As a civil rights lawyer, I watched how this community suffered from law enforcement and prosecutorial overreach, and I know that these harms went unaddressed for many, if not for most,” Krasner said in a statement. “We cannot go back to fix that, but we can give a voice to those who experienced injustice for years.”  

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