In our politically divided world, we're accustomed to divisions being drawn. Tribes align themselves on opposite sides of each conflict, fueled by social media and partisan news outlets.
So when the actors in a controversy choose to come together in compromise rather than escalating their differences, it's a refreshing change.
Tuesday in Valparaiso, the walls built up in the aftermath of a controversial arrest came down in dramatic fashion when a joint statement was released by Porter County Sheriff David Reynolds, Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas and local resident Darryl Jackson Jr. The statement, which you can read here, demonstrates civility, understanding and empathy too often missing from discussions of the difficult topics of race and policing.
Jackson, an African-American, was arrested on Aug. 29 for failure to identify himself and resisting arrest after police approached him on a residential street in Valparaiso. A subsequent dashcam video of the arrest sparked the familiar script for such incidents. Fellow police, including Sheriff Reynolds, defended the actions of the white officer. Activists and Valparaiso University students criticized the officer's handling of the incident. Mayor Costas, in questioning the arrest, brought a hail of criticism from police groups.
In such a highly charged atmosphere, it's not easy to lower your defenses, listen to the other side and admit your own shortcomings. But that's what came out of a collaborative dialogue that should be a model for others.
Jackson said, "In the midst of my fear, I was not the best version of myself," and offered "sincere apologies" to the arresting officer, Sheriff Reynolds and members of the Porter County gang task force. Reynolds accepted Jackson's apologies, acknowledging "we know that we can do better, too."
Costas stated his regret that his comments offended some in the law enforcement community and saluted Jackson and Reynolds for the outcome. "The strength of a community is tested by its ability to work through tough issues in a spirit of understanding and respect. This joint statement is a shining example of that spirit."
I'm reminded of something that the late journalist Cole Campbell observed about conflict resolution. "Everyone has their trap," Campbell said, meaning before you assume the worst about someone, consider the circumstances that motivate their actions and opinions. Understanding and empathy are more effective tools than righteousness and anger.