Apologies and Justice 

Building on last week's theme of Cultural Trauma, this week we considered several essays on the topics of Apologies and Justice. We first looked at Michel-Rolph Trouillot's work on collective apologies in the global era. He lead us to think about the qualities which make for a good and successful apology. Then we looked at Daniel Levy's and Natan Sznaider's influential essay on the Holocaust and "cosmopolitan memory." Unlike the national memories or the modern period, the age of globalization introduces memories on a planetary scale. Holocaust memory is an important example of this kind of memory. 

The Central Park 5

The individuals in the image I’ve chosen for this week’s contribution are Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, and Raymond Santana. These four individuals are part of the Central Park Five; the fifth member, Antron McCray is not pictured. In 1989, these individuals were falsely accused of beating and sexually assaulting a woman. At the time, Kevin and Raymond were 14, Antron and Yusef were 15, and Korey was 16. They were taken into custody and interrogated by the police for hours without parental presence. They were coerced by law enforcement to admit to the crimes and provide false confessions. Although the DNA evidence at the crime scene did not match the DNA of any of the young boys, they were still tried in court and wrongfully convicted. Years later, in 2002, the real perpetrator of the crimes came forward and confessed, and the Central Park Five were cleared of their charges and exonerated. By this point, Yusef, Antron, and Raymond had already served about seven years in jail, and Korey had spent 12 years of his life in prison. Although they received a large settlement as an attempt to repair this injustice and make amends, no amount of money can help heal the pain and suffering they’ve experienced and make up for the time that they lost.

In this week’s reading, Trouillot mentions that “collective apologies have not been a hallmark of human history” Olick et al, 2011: 459) and that is reflected in this case where the mayor of New York City acknowledged the Central Park Five’s hardships in a 2014 speech yet did not make any formal apologies. Even though apologies “have been rather rare” (459) and have not been prevalent in our history, it is immoral and unjust for someone to not receive an apology after serving countless years for a crime they did not commit. Therefore, even after being exonerated, the injustice continued as there was a stigma attached to that horrific event. They faced a lot of discrimination, and this will stay with them forever. The monetary reparations made will not justify the inequality they faced in the justice system and how it was never properly addressed.

A Holocaust Apology? 

The photo I decided to use is of the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, Germany. During the horrible time of the Holocaust, many Jewish individuals were horribly murdered and mistreated. The idea that this memorial was to remember those who lost their lives during the Holocaust is very valid. However, an alternative view can be looked at with this memorial, viewing this memorial as an apology from the German government to the Jewish individuals who were affected by this event can be seen in an attempt to apologize for what has happened in the past. With this collective apology coming from the government I think there is hope within the government that they are given the acceptance of the apology by the collective community of Jewish individuals. “From a symbolic viewpoint… collective apologies offer an inherent ambiguity: the request, the offer, the rejection or the acceptance of an apologetic gesture deemed to be felicitous inasmuch as it claims to tie two collective subjects, yet incapable of fulfilling that claim because of the nature of the subjects involved” (Trouillot, p.463). From this quote, I gather the idea that collective apologies act as a bandaid on a wound inflicted by others. Because of the severity of mistreatment done to a collective community by another, a collective apology can only do so much for the group receiving the apology, acting as a bandaid. I feel that the Holocaust memorial can be seen as one of these instances, the German government wants to give this community something to be able to remember their loved ones and is a “gift” to help them with that. However, the Jewish community and I would go as far as saying the world will never be able to forgive or condemn the German government for what happened during the Holocaust, creating an impossible situation to accept the apology because of the collective history. (Submitted by GK)

Apartheid in South Africa

Nomonde Calata became a widow after her husband was killed by the state police during the Apartheid in South Africa. In Trouillot’s “Abortive Rituals: Historic Apologies in the Global Era,” he notes that “the victim’s side . . . must claim both a unique memory of a unique experience and the universal relevance of that uniqueness. On the perpetrator’s side, one must deny or validate that very same combination with the whole world witnessing.” Calata stood in front of the truth and reconciliation commission after the Apartheid ended in South Africa and shared the story of her husbands' murder. Her story, though unique to her was a common experience for many. Shortly after one of the officers responsible for her death came forward to recount the events and ask for forgiveness. In this instance, the victim (Calata) and perpetrator (officer) are specific individuals that represent a much larger collective. In his paper, Trouillet discusses apologies as rituals with demonstrative and transformative aspects that can ultimately turn into formulas that leave people unsatisfied. This is the case for Calata and many others as an admission of guilt and an apology were just the beginning of the healing process. RC

Apologies Unlikely to be Administered

Technological advancements have improved and complicated our contemporary lives in innumerable ways. Since the mid-twentieth century, intensified consumption of goods has filled homes, landfills, and recycling depots across the West with products and waste. Many of these waste items are hazardous and difficult to dispose of because they contain chemicals like lead, beryllium, and cadmium. Countries in the West, such as Canada, ship their electronic waste, or e-waste, to developing nations where legislation of hazardous materials handling is less prohibitive or non-existent. The materials are then dumped, and valuable materials are scavenged and sold by impoverished persons in unsafe working conditions. In proposing that Western nations apologize for externalizing their hazardous waste, I wish to highlight their “practical liability and communal responsibility through time that has long been an attribute of agents” (Trouillout, 460-1) rather than appeal to a sense of moral responsibility. The ritual of apology “mark[s] a temporal transition,” where harm done in the past is recognized, and the “acknowledgement creates. . . a new temporal plane, a present oriented towards the future” (Trouillout, 458). An apology would require a radical transformation of the current practice of e-waste handling in order for it to succeed. Contributed by KLB.