Saturday, July 20, 2013

In Memory of Travon Martin

The highly-publicized court case where George Zimmerman was charged with the death of Travon Martin and was acquitted by a jury based on self defense points out the problem with the American legal system people like me who work in restorative justice have pointed out. Namely, that problem is that the courts are based on a system of laws, not justice.

The legal system is focused on the legal consequences of crime –
What law/rule was broken? Who is at fault? And what punishment is appropriate?
In contrast, restorative justice offers a fair and just response to wrongdoing and conflict and puts justice back into our legal system. Restorative justice attends to the human consequences of wrongdoing and conflict, what is called the ripple effect of harm. This ripple effect not only includes the immediate persons harmed. It also includes their family and friends, their immediate community, and the larger community.
Restorative justice is defined as a process of responding to wrongdoing and conflict in a way that focuses on healing the harm (particularly the harm to relationships resulting from harmful behaviour. This process involves all the persons affected by the event or events, particularly the person harmed, the person causing the harm, and the affected community.
I am proposing that we abandon the failed idea that courts provide justice and adopt a policy of responding to wrongdoing and conflict based on restorative justice. Such a shift in policy will have the following results:
1.    Those persons harmed by wrongdoing and conflict, who we traditionally call victims, will be given a voice in the process and outcome. They will no longer be pawns in an adversarial system that either leaves them out or makes them feel guilty.
2.    Communities will be empowered by building their capacity to respond in the process and giving them a voice in the outcome. They will no longer be forced to sit and watch judges and lawyers as they engage in the formalities of the courtroom using unfamiliar language.
3.    Our response to the problems resulting from wrongdoing and conflict will be more holistic and culturally sensitive. Spiritual and emotional values will be as important as the facts. The system will no longer be dominated by retribution and will be replaced by a philosophy of restoration.
4.    We will move from procedural law to substantive justice. We will recognize that justice is not only about following the rules traditionally imposed by courts but also requires us to produce results that are fair and meets the needs of society as a whole.