Zimmerman Trial – What of the Restorative Justice Process ?

Each was born for a different outcome in human community than the outcome that has made them known to us..

Each was born for a different outcome in human community than the outcome that has made them known to us.

Dear Readers,

“What if Restorative Justice practices were (or had been) used – to combine need for justice with healing from this painful event?”  I share my thoughts and  bring well-informed insights from those more involved in Restorative Justice than I:

First – some thoughts about Tribe Human, and the value to Tribe Human that is found in healing justice processes.

Later – I bring in Mikhail Lyubansky, PhD,  and a few other resources. Lyubansky  lectures in the Psychology department at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. (Link to his professional profile and more about him below my signature at bottom of this piece.)

I recently posted a piece on Transformative Justice, one of the newest variations of time-honored Healing Justice systems – systems that don’t try first to absolve or condemn. Our present justice system does try to absolve (find fully innocent) or condemn (find fully guilty). Our present system is considered a punitive, or retributive, model – it seeks to punish or exact retribution. What we seek by our present system is a sharp contrast to what is sought in Healing Justice models.  Healing justice works to address and repair harm – and to heal individuals and community.

Healing justice systems have inspired renewed interest in a growing number of professional justice workers and others, internationally. The interest is alive and well in the US, but perhaps not so well known. 

That healing justice systems are gaining traction is good – modern humanity surely has almost had its fill of social/political systems that limit our ability to value one another as members of “Tribe Human”.

“Tribe Human” is a concept that ultimately inspires me to consider core needs of a factory, mine, land worker or herdsman anywhere on earth as equal to my own.  We are each a member of Tribe Human. Understanding Tribe Human as global, of course also means – by logic and heart – I value each US citizen the same way, as member of my tribe, Tribe Human. (It’s my experience that logic and heart, when allowed to inform each other, lead to the same place.)

The concept of Tribe Human “says”: each child born anywhere on earth brings with it a desire to thrive, to express interest and talent, and to do so in context of thriving community. Since each of us was once ‘a child born,’ each of us arrived with similar root motivations. (See “Reminders about Ourselves”).

It goes without saying that Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman, each of their parents, and everyone each has known along the way, is also a member of Tribe Human. Each began life as an infant with universal motivation to thrive in thriving community.

When things go horribly wrong, it’s not because anyone started out as an infant with intent to wreak mischief or havoc on other individuals or community. Again – it’s worth keeping universal at-birth motivations in mind, (See: “Who Makes the Human Journey, How does it go?).

Justice systems that might best be designed to keep the universally shared at-birth motivations of each individual in mind, are those that fall under titles like Restorative Justice. More broadly, as described above, they are called systems of ‘healing justice’.

At the present time, healing justice practices, if used at all, are supplemental to the formalized routines of hierarchical, punitive/retributive, courtroom justice. (Hierarchy does enter the analysis – healing justice system are fundamentally non-hierarchical – but I won’t pursue in this post.See systems of healing justice here.)

Despite best intentions to ‘right wrongs’ as they occur, our existing justice practices literally force us to ignore ‘the wider picture‘ when harm is done. We are forced to ‘stick to what is allowed’ for consideration.

(Aside: This flaw in our justice system is repeated in other ways in other institutions. Our practices in ‘democratic self-governance’ force us into partisan politics; our corporate laws force externalized costs and promote acceptance of collateral damage. In fact – all this I’m saying about Tribe Human can be boiled down to practices of ‘externalization’ – forced exclusion of the larger realities that pertain to “thriving”.).

As we stumble into our second decade of the 21stC, our most entrenched systems are barely able to ‘make room for’ very real factors that shape individual and group beliefs, attitudes, practices, and choices. We may often ‘talk the talk’ of compassion and genuine interest in our fellow members of Tribe Human; but we seldom ‘walk the walk‘. Beyond a moment’s step here or there, we continue to identify self and other as ‘significantly not-the-same’. We assign ourselves and others as ‘belonging’ to Box X, Y, or Z’.

Needs of Tribe Human, stemming from every member’s at-birth urge to thrive individually in thriving community, are held far beyond reach.

What better venue to begin to shift ourselves toward needs of Tribe Human than in matters of justice – especially in situations that fairly scream for wider-picture understanding and need to bring healing. And what better example of such a situation than the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman.

Lucky for us – the question: “What if Restorative Justice practices were (or had been) used to begin necessary healing from this painful event?” has been explored by those of training and experience to give answer. This was discussed early among professionals who explore, study, and promote healing justice; but unfortunately went no farther than discussion.

Restorative Justice might have been part of the solution – but until healing justice principles are more common in our ordinary thought, we are inclined to stick to  well-worn paths of habit and ‘efficiency’ – our familiar formalized courtroom system.

We don’t reject healing justice systems necessarily out of stubbornness, but out of ignorance. We ‘ignore’ possibility of healing justice practices simply because we’ve never been exposed to the concept.  We lack awareness, and don’t know how healing justice processes work.

“…“We may not literally follow the Biblical edict of “an eye for an eye”, but justice in American society (and in Western society more broadly) is generally based on the notion that “the punishment must fit the crime”. So dominant is this punitive/retributive paradigm in our society that even those who have reason to distrust our contemporary approach to justice, have a hard time imagining doing justice any other way. There is, however, another paradigm, a restorative one….” (Psychology Today, Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D – with multiple links to healing justice articles, including his 2013 Journal for Social Action article which he uses to shape his Psychology Today article. )

Lyubansky reflects specifically on healing justice as possibility for Trayvon Martin’s shooting. A key obstacle, he notes, would have been lack of awareness or familiarity with healing justice practices:

“In all honesty, despite doing restorative work with incarcerated youth for several years, given the trial’s outcome and our nation’s preoccupation with assigning blame, it is hard to imagine Martin’s family and Zimmerman to agree to participate in such a process, especially if they have not had previous experience with it, as I assume they haven’t…”

Lyubansky’s extensive writing on healing justice, and its specific ‘might have been’ value in the Zimmerman trial, is also referenced in a brief post by Joshoa Wachtel, at restorativeworks.net. (It was Wachtel’s post that sent me after Lyubansky’s thoughts.) Wachtel says: “Lyubansky speculates that those involved in the Trayvon Martin murder case would also benefit from such processes: ..”.

Lyubansky’s Psychology Today article refers to other well-known shooting deaths that had the effect of tearing community apart; Emmet Till, (1955); and John T Williams, (2010). In one of these – the shooting of Williams by a Seattle police officer – healing justice principles were part of the justice process. Lyubansky gives details and explores what can be learned.  The story of how healing justice was included in the case of the shooting of Williams, and what we can learn from it,  is also explored by Andrea Brenneke at Tikkun. (Tikkun is dedicated to “heal, repair, and transform the world.”; each time I’ve come across it when researching for posts, I’ve found it deeply thoughtful – with much to offer.)

I think Lyubansky’s “lack of awareness” observation is absolutely at the crux of what we need to acknowledge as weakness in US justice practices:

“Though RC and other restorative justice practices are still unfamiliar to most Americans, Restorative Justice is an international movement that is increasingly becoming the normative response in many parts of the world. The United States has been slower to adopt restorative practices, especially in criminal cases, but here, too, restorative responses are starting to gain traction, …” (He cites and links a NY Times article … but I’ve got this post so loaded with links I’m going to refer you again to Lyubansky’s Psychology Today article.)

On this blog’s Quotes page, I’ve included an observation:

“You cannot have public discussion (and improvement) unless people are able to imagine something different.” (Henning Mankell – Swedish, on importance of imagination – BBC The Forum 2/8/09.)

I’m not sure our vision limitations can be explained more clearly. If we can’t imagine it, we’re not going to try to make it happen.

How are awareness, imagination, and possibility raised and stirred on any issue that confronts Tribe Human? Only by ‘spreading the word’. I sometimes call it the “leak and seep” method: blog posts, on-line media comment sections, twitter, face-to-face sidewalk chats, across fences while gardening, kitchen tables … song and poetry performance … the means by which we can encourage ourselves toward “individual thriving in the context of thriving community” are uncountable.

It’s the 21st Century. Given the troubled state of humanity and of earth itself, there seems no better time than right now to take account of who we – as a species – seem to be.

There is a nagging – to many, sacred, – sense that “we have something better to bring to Tribe Human than we’ve found so far”. This nagging tugs at us on many issues – including justice issues.

Our justice process stirred strong emotions as the Zimmerman trial for Martin’s death was underway and eventually closed.  Instead of healing community, the trial and its outcome aroused grief, blame-casting, and defensive anger.against being blamed.

“You’re in that Box, we’re in this Box – You’re wrong and we’re right.”  Emotions were so strong because they came from deep motivations each carries from birth. All the people in all the boxes began the human journey without plan to bring harm to self, other, or community.  Prime motivations of each born – just by being born – are to thrive in thriving community.

I believe that nagging “we’re not there yet” feeling about human promise has always pestered us. It explains much from before and since the Magna Carta; it explains peasant and other citizen uprisings. It pesters us for a reason – I believe ‘individual thriving in the context of thriving community on a thriving earth’ is what we were born to experience.

My Best to All of Us! –MaggieAnn

Mikhail Lyubansky’s professional profile here: His strong interests and active work include racial/ethnic group relations, and restorative justice, specifically a Restorative Circle process developed in Brazil by Dominic Barter and associates. He discusses and shares his work in his blog at Psychology Today, see ‘Between the Lines‘..

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About maggieannthoeni

A description once given of me was "rooted in the earth while roaming the stars" - and this has felt 'right'. I believe in something akin to this for each of us. I am a passionate supporter of discovering the autonomous self while serving the whole as primary intent. I believe in discovery of innate principles, clearing the overlay of socialization that obscures this from us. I believe it is our responsibility to leave no one behind - most particularly to respond to suffering as best we can whereever we find it, whenever we are made aware. I believe in this for the insect as well as the most magnificent form of humanity. I believe in brother/sisterhood without boundary. I believe in righteous indignation when it is appropriate, but do not believe in an enemy. I believe in consciousness, in intelligence, in logic, in rationality, in emotion, in transcendence - and am convinced until we generally practice explore and honor all this in ourselves, we remain profoundly immature. (I believe real maturity is known and practiced by many young children, and not enough adults!)
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