Disarmed by forgiveness

Forbearance helps avoid another Trayvon Martin incident

The news media duly took note of what happened east of Atlanta April 19. But the world may never notice what happened there this past week.

It should. It’s a lesson for peaceful communities, if not world peace.

And it could have turned out so much worse. Frighteningly
so.

When Angelica and Jean-Joseph Kalonji showed up April 19 to change the locks on the Newton County home that their son Bruno had bought for the family, a neighboring father and son pair held them at gunpoint as suspected burglars.

After hearing noises at the seven-month-vacant foreclosure, neighbors Robert Canoles, 45, and his 18-year-old son, Branden, held the Kalonjis, their arms in the air, at the point of semiautomatic weapons until authorities could arrive after about 10 minutes. The Kalonjis were handcuffed and taken to jail.

Days later, when the horror of the mistake was revealed, it was the Canoleses who were arrested, charged with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and criminal trespass.

Initially, the elder Canoles was unbowed and defiant,
noting he’d actually been praised by authorities.

The story was all the more noteworthy, and the incident more disturbing, due to the fact that Canoles is white and Kalonji, an immigrant from the Congo, is black.

This easily could have blown up into Trayvon II.

But last Wednesday, the two families held a press conference in which the parties hugged and a contrite Canoles told Kalonji, “We hope to be good neighbors a long time, and we can fish together.”

“I just hope everything will be OK between all of us,” his son added.

For their part, the Kalonjis, to a person, were the epitome of grace and forgiveness.

“I accept in all my heart the apologies,” Mrs. Angelica Kalonji said, adding that the couple is “ready to be the best neighbors now and forever.”

Rejecting universal advice to sue the Canoleses, the Kalonjis’ son Bruno said, plainly, ““We want to show people forgiveness.”

To borrow a fashionable phrase: Mission accomplished.

What a soaring end to a turbulent flight.

Authorities need to take away as many lessons as they can – such as from having cuffed and arrested legitimate homeowners, after a simple phone call to the son might have straightened things out. This also may be an allegory on race and stereotyping. It’s also a cautionary tale to anyone with an itchy trigger finger or paranoia residing just under the skin.

In the end, it’s mostly a story about grace and forgiveness, and how disarming, potent and uplifting they are. And how they can grow into peace, even in
situations that begin so wrong and unfair and potentially violent.

When they do go fishing, the world should pause. And think about doing the same.

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