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In the Midst of Ferguson Chaos, an Apology Done Right

It would have been easy for Louis Head to blame his raging words the other night fully on the grand jury. Or on the Ferguson, Missouri police department. Or on Office Darren Wilson. Or on racism and injustice. And if he had, there’d be a lot of people who would have given him a pass under the circumstances. But instead, Michael Brown’s stepfather did something harder and he did it well.

If you’ve been away from your television or the Internet or are outside the U.S., maybe you missed Louis Head’s outburst. The cameras didn’t miss it. The announcement had just come down that the grand jury had declined to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown. Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, had spoken to the crowd and then put her head in her hands and began to weep. Head climbed up onto the platform to comfort her.

I saw the clip on the web, so it wasn’t bleeped out the way it was on television. It took my breath away. It was so stunning to see the instant when absolute fury overtakes someone. I could see the moment his body changed, the very moment the fury washed over him and stole his self-control. Go look: You can see the moment yourself.

My heart just broke when I saw Head howling on that platform. It broke for everyone in Ferguson that night. It broke for McSpadden. It broke for the police on the ground. Mostly, my heart broke for Louis Head. I watched the video over and over and with each viewing, my heart broke a little bit more. Even as my rational side softly tsk-tsked over his total loss of control, the compassionate side of me just wept for his torment.

In the shadow of an investigation into whether or not Head could be charged with inciting a riot, Head issued an apology today. It’s a good one:

“Something came over me as I watched and listened to my wife, the mother of Michael Brown Jr., react to the gut-wrenching news that the cop who killed her son wouldn’t be charged with a crime, my emotions admittedly got the best of me.

“This is my family. I was so angry and full of raw emotions, as so many others were, and granted I screamed out words I shouldn’t have screamed in the heat of the moment. I was wrong and I humbly apologize to all those who read my anger and my pain as a true desire for what I want for the community.

“To place blame solely on me for the conditions of our community and country after the Grand Jury decision goes way too far and is wrong as the decision itself. To declare a state of emergency and send a message of war, not peace, before a Grand Jury decision is announced is also wrong.

“In the end I’ve lived in this community for a long time. The last thing I truly wanted was to see it go up in flames. In spite of my frustration, it really hurt me to see that. It’s time to rebuild. If we are to honor Michael Brown’s memory we need to work together to make rebuilding happen. I plan to remain here and do my part in earnest truth.“

Here’s why Head’s apology is a good one and the apology lessons we can learn from it: It’s self-aware and self-honest. It explains why he lost control without trying to explain it away. He takes responsibility for his words. He makes it known what is really important to him in all of this.

Head did it right. This is no small task, as we’re reminded by so many cringe-worthy public apologies. And it’s certainly no small task in the midst of the mess in Ferguson, where we might have expected quality apologies to come from many other quarters.


Tammy Lenski

Dr. Tammy Lenski helps individuals, pairs, teams, and audiences navigate disagreement better, address friction, and build alignment. Her current work centers on creating the conditions for robust collaboration and sound decisions while fostering resilient personal and professional relationships. Her conflict resolution podcast and blog, Disagree Better, are available at… MORE >

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