The organization now named Metro Justice was formed in 1965 to support the African-American organization FIGHT! in its struggle to win fair employment. In the decades since, its members have fought to stop redlining and housing discrimination, stood against war and imperialism, and fought for other social justice causes, locally, regionally and internationally. Most recently its members helped bring to an end discriminatory suspension policies in Rochester city schools in favor of restorative justice practices. We were an instrumental part in winning pay increases for low-wage workers across the state.
The many volunteers who have built and led this organization over the years have been dedicated to racial and economic justice, but also dedicated to democratic principles and consensus decision-making.
It is thus with profound sorrow that we have attempted to address the accusations first brought to us in April of this year against former Organizing Director, Colin O'Malley. The current political climate affords little space for open communication about sexual and emotional abuse, let alone deliberation and consensus.
In the middle of April, three leaders of the organization met with three women who came forward. After interviewing Colin as to the allegations against him, they interviewed eight other witnesses as directed by the four principals (the three women and Colin), to obtain additional information. They updated the women on a weekly basis as to the progress of the investigation. They developed an initial report, which was discussed with members of the Metro Justice Personnel committee, and solicited feedback from all members of staff. At the beginning of June a final report was submitted to the Council, and the Council convened. The entire investigative process took less than two months.
That process is detailed in an email and mailing distributed to over five hundred members and other interested persons in early September, linked here: http://www.metrojustice.org/follow_up_email
The process was not perfect, nor do we make any claim that it was. Some members of staff felt that they had not enough opportunities to be heard, or not received enough information about the investigation. Some members of Council only had a few days to review and consider the final report, while others had been involved in the investigation for weeks. However, the claim recently made on Facebook that Metro Justice did not believe the women who came forward is patently false.
Many of the members of Metro Justice's Council and staff are abuse and assault survivors or have partners who are survivors. From the beginning of the process the central question was not whether harm was done. Colin acknowledged most of the women’s accounts. He, and some of the witnesses we interviewed told us of his past attempts to be accountable and redress that harm. The question before the Council was about just outcomes.
The #Me Too movement is a necessary reaction to the reality - ubiquitous in our patriarchal society - of women being silenced. Women have suffered abuse and assault at the hands of men in powerful positions and been ignored or ostracized for reporting. Or victims remain silent, knowing the backlash that will come if they speak out. For those women, social media provides a voice and a way to seek support from others who have suffered, and to call out their abusers and use social pressure to punish and bring them down. What this "calling-out" process does not do well is build community, include nonusers of social media, or provide for lasting accountability.
Is every man who has caused a woman harm the same as Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby, or Harvey Weinstein? Should every remedy be the same? Is there a difference between an abuser who denies all allegations, and one who acknowledges them and desires to atone and work to reform behavior? What is a just outcome in either case? Who should have a say in that determination? How does immediate expulsion and ostracization hold such an individual accountable and prevent future harm? These are the questions Council attempted to answer. As a preliminary decision, made because there was no more time or energy left that night to deliberate, Council determined that Colin would not be fired, but would likely be suspended and subject to certain conditions and consequences before his return.
The heartbreaking aspect of the outcome of that meeting was that, as a result, good people walked away from the organization. If the deliberations had gone differently, a different set of good people would have walked away. These are not questions to which consensus answers can be easily - or perhaps ever - be reached. But, as our brothers and sisters in the labor movement know well, these sorts of hard debates are necessary ones. And as an organization, we remain committed to making our decisions democratically, independently, and as fairly as possible.
The questions we faced with Colin are questions the Left and progressives must address if we are to obtain real justice in our work. We cannot be satisfied with calling out and public condemnation while at the same time we seek to dismantle a criminal justice system that "bails and jails" people on the basis of accusations alone, without meaningful due process. If all we can do is punish, then we are no better than that system. Yes, we must empower and listen to victims. But if our process also silences the friends and loved ones of abusers, then it will ultimately divide our community instead of building it. And if we cannot, under any circumstances, embrace abusers who are willing to acknowledge harm and reform themselves, then there is no room in our justice for redemption.
Colin resigned less than a week after that Council meeting. Since then, Metro Justice has been committed to fostering a dialogue with anyone, either inside or outside the organization, who has either asked about the process or wanted to help us build a better organization. Many members have done so, and for that, we are grateful.
We also engaged with non-members - including a young woman who we interviewed as a witness, and who recently posted on Facebook claiming that she would remain silent no longer, likening our process to the Brett Kavanaugh nomination hearings. She had not accused Colin of assaulting her or having an abusive intimate relationship with her, but demanded that we make a statement to the general public. In addition to her misrepresentations that have already been addressed, the individual in question neglected to mention that she had a lengthy meeting with the Metro Justice president in August, during and after which she was invited to speak to others, or participate in a dialogue for the development of new procedures and policies at the organization.
Given the divisions and pain this has caused in our own organization, we understand the pain that the women might feel from not achieving their desired outcomes. We regret the extent to which our vision of justice is not the same as theirs, and any grief this has caused.
The fight over Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination should remind us that the human rights of every one of us – women, people of color, LGBTQ, and poor and working class, are currently on the chopping block. In the face of this and other existential threats, we must do something better than to call each other out on social media and condemn Left organizations for not meeting our own standard of justice. We must build solidarity, because all of our oppression - and all of our liberation - intersects. We are committed to that mission. If you are too, we ask that you join with us.
We will not be responding to comments to this statement on Facebook. If you have questions about it or wish to discuss further, please contact the Council (email@example.com) or the Personnel Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
-The Council of Metro Justice