Posted by: edshannon | July 28, 2007

Nifong’s “Apology” Re-Victimizes The Accused

Mike Nifong got one thing right, “We all need to heal,” he said. But after reading his so-called apology, all I see is some well crafted, word smithing from his attorney. “The healing process cannot truly begin until all proceedings involving this matter are concluded and everyone is able to go forward,”Nifong said.

Not true Mike, the healing process can begin now, with a real apology. But healing will require far more than simply acknowledging the obvious. If you didn’t catch his statement this week, take a look for yourself:

“With the court’s permission, I would have a brief statement:The last 16 months have proven to be a difficult and painful journey for my family and for myself. I know this has also been a difficult and painful journey for Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty and David Evans, for their families, for Durham and for the state of North Carolina.

We all need to heal. I believe, however, that this healing process cannot truly begin until all proceedings involving this matter are concluded and everyone is able to go forward. I have resigned my position as Durham’s district attorney as a part of this process.

I have read the report released by the attorney general, including his recitation of evidence I did not have – evidence that he obtained from his own investigation.

I agree with the attorney general’s statement that there is no credible evidence that Mr. Seligmann, Mr. Finnerty or Mr. Evans committed any of the crimes for which they were indicted – or any other crimes against (the accuser) – during the party that occurred on March 13th and 14th, 2006, at North Buchanan Boulevard in Durham.

Mr. Seligmann, Mr. Finnerty and Mr. Evans were entitled to the presumption of innocence when the were under indictment. Surely they are entitled to more than that now as they go forward for the rest of their lives, and that is what the attorney general tried to give them in his declaration that they are innocent.

I have admitted on more than one occasion that I have made mistakes in the prosecution of these cases. For that, I sincerely apologize to Mr. Seligmann, Mr. Finnerty, Mr. Evans and to their families.

It is my hope that all of us can learn from the mistakes in this case, that all of us can begin to move forward. It is my hope that we can start this process today.

Thank you, your honor.”

What’s wrong with Mike’s statement? How can you make an effective apology if you find yourself in a position to need to? Let’s consider Nifong’s apology.

First, an apology doesn’t begin with rambling about your pain or your family’s pain. (Even though they’re also victims and you need to apologize to them too). It’s not about you. No disrespect, but no one involved cares about you.

If you really want healing to begin, your apology needs to start by addressing everyone you’ve affected. Starting with the accused and their families privately, and working your way to the public–including ther damage to race relations.

You need to go to them face-to-face, look them in the eye so they can see your sincerity. Your attorney will probably quit at this point.

The second area that needs work is using phrases like ‘mistakes’ and offering of excuses. When you say things like “including…evidence I did not have,” in reference to the Attorney General’s report, you not only negate the apology, you inflame your victims all over again.

We all make mistakes and most people can accept, and overlook an honest mistake. Mistakes are things like forgetting to pay a bill, or inadvertently cutting someone off in traffic. They are not intentional and are agenda free.

When you use a phrase like “…evidence I did not have,” you take a defensive posture. Just like using the word “mistakes,” you’re emphasizing your innocence and make yourself out to be a victim too. Again, this negates the apology and inflames your victims.

Third, be specific. Burying, “I have admitted on more than one occasion…,” deep in the statement is a form of avoidance. You must make specific admission of what you did. (You definitely won’t have any attorney at this point.)

Fourth, acknowledge the hurt an pain you caused. It is obvious that the damage done can’t be undone, but if the accused can sense that your really “get it” and understand what they went through, it will go a long way for both of you healing.

Fifth, be prepared to face the consequences. I know this is counter to your attorneys advice, but you did say healing needs to take place. It is doubtful that anything will fully make up for the pain you caused. You have to accept that and so will Seligmann, Finnerty, and Evans.

For those who will have an ongoing relationship with you, they will need to see a change in the way you do business. You can’t apologize and then carry on like you did nothing wrong.

Finally, ask for forgiveness. Forgiving you will help your victims heal far more than it will help you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean anyone will forget this. It does mean that they will not focus on it anymore.

Mike also took a shot at the media and the public saying that the boys “were entitled to the presumption of innocence when the were under indictment.” Indeed they were, no one said Nifong bears all the blame. The media circus stirs up public opinion, “yada, yada, yada..”

While this may be the case, it doesn’t belong in an apology. Let those of us who are not involved make the case.

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