Tag Archives: punishment

vancouver’s shootings and restorative justice

mural in canadaon tuesday, there was a shooting in my neighbourhood, on vancouver’s fraser street. pretty scary – it was less than three blocks from my grandson’s daycare. there has been a rash of gang activity and violence in vancouver in the last few weeks.

like anyone else, i’m asking myself, what’s going on? what happened to vancouver? and what can we do about it?

this led me to interview a friend of mine who is very passionate about restorative justice. what is restorative justice?

restorative justice is one way to respond to a criminal act. restorative justice puts the emphasis on the wrong done to a person as well as on the wrong done to the community. it recognizes that crime is both a violation of relationships between specific people and an offence against everyone – the state.

restorative justice programs involve the voluntary participation of the victim of the crime and the offender and ideally members of the community, in discussions. the goal is to “restore” the relationship, fix the damage that has been done and prevent further crimes from occurring.

restorative justice requires wrongdoers to recognize the harm they have caused, to accept responsibility for their actions and to be actively involved in improving the situation. wrongdoers must make reparation to victims, themselves and the community. (thanks to the government of canada department of justice)

here is the interview:

was there a specific moment in your life that made you become interested in restorative justice?

a combination of things. i saw a movie about it, a woman whose son had been killed falling off the truck that was being driven by someone under the influence. now she’s going around with the young man who drove that truck, speaking to high schools. at the same time, the reena virk trial happened. the way the virks handled the whole thing really impressed me. also, the truth and reconciliation commission happened during the same time. so i saw a different way of dealing with crime and very serious issues of life and death.

you’re so passionate about many things but i’ve never seen you delve so deeply into an issue. why this?

the future of the world depends on it. it’s a civilizing force. what we’re doing isn’t working. i see that humanity makes these quantum leaps at different points in history. i think this is the leap forward we need. instead of guilt and punishment and retribution and anger, we need something else – although you do need the anger, it’s an important part of the restorative process.

plus i’m always impressed by the people who do it. i saw bishop desmond tutu when he was in vancouver and had a chance to talk to him for a few minutes. there was something about him, there was so much peace about him, there was a joy and a peace about him, i want something of this. he had this deep inner sense that there was a way out. and he was involved in this way out, he was living it.

people who do this work seem so steady and on course.

what are your thoughts on the current wave of violent crimes in vancouver?

i think it’s scary. i confess i have a little bit of trouble seeing how restorative just can be applied to it. these people that are shooting each other, i suspect it’s to do with gangs. they seem different from the rest of us. i have trouble thinking of these people going to their jobs, worrying about their mortgage. i’m having trouble having empathy for them. that would be a huge step, if restorative justice would work for them but i can’t imagine it, that needs a bigger mind than mine. there’s a part of me that wants to say, go at it, just leave the innocent people out. of course that doesn’t sound very restorative.

what’s needed is a willingness to participate in the process. are gang members ever going to be willing to sit down and see the other side?

restorative justice doesn’t work for sociopaths. these people in my mind are sociopaths. but on the other hand i wouldn’t want to write anyone off.

it’s the willingness. you have to sit down and be willing to hear the truth. sadam hussein for example still thought he was right right when he was executed. not a candidate for restorative justice!

what do you say to the idea that we need harsher punishments?

that’s just what hasn’t worked. which of course puts in a different light what i just said. the highest crime rates exist in the places where the harshest punishments are given. i totally get that people who have lost someone would want harsh punishment. but it just doesn’t make the person who carries out the punishment feel better, it’s costly, it doesn’t work – but i understand it!

i know if anyone did something to someone who i love, i would want blood, that’s my first reaction. but eventually i hope i would come around because it doesn’t work.

can you tell us about a restorative justice case that really impressed you?

the art project on the side of a store here in vancouver, my sister’s closet. my sister’s closet has an alley right on the side of it and had been a target for graffiti for a long time. the owner of the property is an elderly asian man who constantly had to clean it up. he couldn’t understand why he was a target all the time. the restorative justice program restart approached him to do a mural there and he agreed.

the restart project took a group of teen grafitti artists through a number of workshops. they sat down with the property owner and the store, they had to hear what it cost them, how unsafe it made them feel. they had to reflect on how it affected them to hear this. ultimately they all designed and made the mural. the property owner even participated a bit. he was quite impressed by one of the young men and decided to sponsor him through art school. now we have this beautiful mural. the kids have vowed not to do any more graffiti. a lot of them have ghone on to do much better. the property owner shows the building proudly. some of the police took some kids under their wing.

a lot of the kids that are doing this are feeling disenfranchised, they have a home that’s not so good, they don’t have a mentor. this is what they got from the program.

it’s possible that these people who do violent crime started out like this, too, and they never found a way to really connect to a mentor.

in the grand scheme of things, graffiti is not a big crime. some of the grafitti is art, but some of it is marking. grafitti leads to a lack of respect. they also found that most of the graffiti people were with horrible attitudes towards women, with non-existent respect. this seems to carry over. they didn’t seem to have a lot of respect for themselves either.

photograph of mural by emrld_cicada

two types of guilt

yesterday i started presenting joyce trebilcot’s dyke ideas, where she talks, among other things, about guilt. the topic yesterday was identity guilt, the type of guilt we can feel for who we are. trebilcot contrasts this with “official guilt”:

what i call official or polite guilt stems from some particular violation of laws or rules (not from who one is) and belongs to legal and moral systems that provide for its elimination: one is (found) guilty, takes one’s punishment, and that’s the end of it – the guilt, which is mainly a matter of being guilty rather than feeling guilty – is designed to be temporary. also, the specific punishment is prescribed and administered primarily by official representatives of the system, not by the guilty themselves.

shame has no role in this sort of guilt, for an officially guilty person is expected to stand up “like a man”, not to cover himself and hide … unlike identity guilt, it is a fit subject of dinner-party conversation in the homes of the powerful.

official guilt differs from identity guilt most strikingly with respect to the role of retribution. an analogy with market places is relevant here. in a market, a monetary price is paid in exchange for some commodity. in guilt, punishment is the price paid in exchange for the elimination of guilt. in official guilt, as in the market, the price, once agreed upon, is specific and finite.

but in identity guilt, the punishment is not like a market price but like endless extortion. because identity guilt is primarily a matter of who one is (or who one is supposed to be), no payment short of death can ever be enough to end it; strictly speaking, no payment is possible, yet we who suffer such guilt flagellate ourselves endlessly in futile attempts to pay off our debt and/or to transform ourselves into something more acceptable.

it is as though we imagine that we are in a rational system where we can be tried and convicted and sentenced and then work off our debt to society – but we’ve been tricked, we’re not in that sort of system at all.

in polite guilt, peers are reunited with peers after a period of estrangement; in the guilt of oppression, those who impose the guilt and those who suffer it are not and never can be peers.

okay, let’s recap

official guilt

  • being guilty rather than feeling guilty
  • one is (found) guilty, takes one’s punishment, and that’s the end of it
  • specific punishment is prescribed and administered primarily by official representatives, not by the guilty themselves.
  • the price, once agreed upon, is specific and finite.
  • temporary
  • shame has no role in this sort of guilt

identity guilt

  • a matter of who one is (or who one is supposed to be)
  • the punishment is like endless extortion
  • no payment can ever be enough; maybe no payment is possible
  • we torture ourselves endlessly in futile attempts to pay off our debt and/or to transform ourselves into something more acceptable
  • we imagine that we are in a rational system where we can be tried, convicted and sentenced and then work off our debt to society but we’re not in that sort of system at all
  • those who impose the guilt and those who suffer it are not and never can be peers.

as i’m contemplating this, the most crucial sentence seems to be “we imagine that we are in a rational system where we can be tried … and then work off our debt … but we’re not in that system.”

what do you make of this so far?