frank paul: guilt, truth and reconciliation

there have been times when i’ve pointed out the sometimes not-so-stellar record of our police. this post here about the sad story of frank paul could be another one. frank paul was a first nations man who lived here in vancouver. “lived” not in the sense that most of us do; he didn’t have a home. one cold night he was found drunk (or sick, or both), he ended up in the police station, wasn’t allowed in the drunk tank and got put back on an alley. he died of hypothermia.

this was 9 years ago. on thursday, the police officer who put him in that alley apologized for what he did.

and that’s what i want to write about.

we all make mistakes. many of us make serious mistakes, and not even “honest” ones – mistakes grounded in stupidity, timidity, selfishness, thoughtlessness. often we’re lucky and these mistakes have no serious consequences. i think of the time, for example, when i drove wrong-way down a busy downtown street. that could have caused a terrible accident, with years-long suffering for all involved. here but for the grace of god go i – nothing happened, and the incidence just seems like one more unimportant occurrence in my life.

here, officer david instant’s actions didn’t go unpunished. a rookie police officer, he listened to a senior officer instead of to his own gut instinct – something that happens as frequently, maybe even more often, than driving wrong-way down a one-way street – and exposed an unconscious man to the elements. the man died.

yes, it took him a long time to apologize. but he did. and he said he wanted to apologize to the family in person. i’m glad he wants to do that.

again, taking a long time to deal with our mistakes is not unusual. sometimes we carry something in our hearts for a long time and we just can’t bring ourselves to act on our desire to make things right. we’re afraid that it’ll expose us, that we’ll be ridiculed, that the person to whom we’re wanting to apologize will be angry, that it’ll be awkward. in instant’s case, there were probably also legal reasons, and he may not have been allowed to say anything.

but here it is. he did something inhumane, a horrible thing happened, and he apologized.

frank paul’s cousin peggy clement gave a moving interview at CBC radio.

i’m not holding grudges against anybody because sometimes we make decisions that don’t coincide with what we’re supposed to be doing but if you take responsibility that’s a step towards making things better.

in this tragedy, then, there is peace and hope.

may he rest in peace, frank paul, and may we be inspired by david instant and peggy clement. what transpired is almost like a mini truth and reconciliation commission. it’s not the typical whitewash where no one admits responsibility, everyone passes the buck, and the wounds of the families affected by such tragedies keep on festering.

here, i believe we can move on.

p.s. it occurs to me that this post fits into the series on guilt – here’s the last post, if you’re interested.

p.p.s. one year later: here are the latest developments on this matter.

p.p.p.s.  this post was included in the carnival of healing with the focus on authenticity.

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