You and I sent an innocent man named Tim Bridges to prison back in 1991, costing him half his life. On top of that, it would seem we agreed to pay him a record $9.5 million of our money as compensation. And if all that weren’t enough, we’re apparently not taking any responsibility and ... wait for it ... we’re not even sorry. Charlotte’s City Council has to make a lot of difficult decisions. This wasn’t one of them. We got it wrong, but it’s not too late to fix it.
To recap: Bridges was convicted in 1991 of raping and beating an elderly woman. While in prison, his parents passed away and he was raped and routinely sexually assaulted. Some 25 years later his conviction was overturned, he was released, the charges were dropped by our district attorney and a pardon was issued by then N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory.
It turns out certain people within our police department decided to lie and withhold information. As a result, “the People” as we’re referred to in court, the ones with the money and power, cheated and broke the rules. Five different judges discovered it, filed formal complaints and the FBI investigated and confirmed it.
A few weeks ago, our City Council wrote Bridges that record-setting check for his 25-year travesty. And they uttered not one word of responsibility nor remorse on our behalf. In fact, the formal settlement refused to admit anything went wrong, saying none of this settlement stuff should “be construed as any acknowledgment of wrongdoing” and that we “continue to dispute and deny Bridges’ legal claims.” Our city attorney, Bob Hagemann, was even quoted as saying that we settled because we’re “unaware at this time of any scientifically sound physical evidence connecting Mr. Bridges to the crime.”
Sounds like a Republican discussing global warming or a Democrat the Clinton emails.
So why is it so hard to just say “I’m sorry” – or in this case, “We’re sorry”? Clearly we lawyered up. But if you’re like me, you’re sick and tired of people hiding behind legal advice when they screw up, using it as an excuse for not doing the right thing. Refusing to acknowledge and apologize makes us all pretty dishonest. We’re not exactly lying, but we’re damned sure not telling the truth either.
We teach our children to say they’re sorry, even when it’s an accident. We tell them it takes courage to admit you’re wrong. We implore them to be bigger and we call people who won’t apologize small and petty. But the example we set says far more than all the words we speak.
In this case, however, that’s actually not why I think it matters most. We should apologize and admit wrongdoing for us, because it defines who we are and what we’re about. If we can’t admit we’re wrong, then how can we commit to fix a problem we won’t acknowledge exists, or God forbid actually prevent it from happening again?
Ironically, in Southern parlance the word “sorry” actually has two meanings. One means remorse, the other means pitiful. So apologize or not, it will be accurate to say, “We are sorry.” We just don’t know which sorry it will be.
Maddalon is a former City Council member. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org