In recent posts I have referenced the work of sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning. Their work points to shifts in our culture. Specifically they not we have shifted from a “dignity culture” (where aggrieved parties tended to let more minor slights go because it was assumed that all people have a central dignity that they don’t need to earn) back to an “honor culture” that we last experienced in the 18th and 19th centuries – where slights had to be avenged; when we had duels. These pistols and swords have been replaced by tweets, posts, and vitriolic. Wounding and death still occurs, only under another guise.
I think about this is the light of the readings for the Solemnity of Christ the King. The gospel, Matthew 25, in its command to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, visit the imprisoned and more – this gospel points out we are called by Christ to ever live in a “dignity culture” because all people have a God-given core dignity that don’t need to earn back.
I read an article this morning by Dr. Alex Piquero from the University of Miami. His focus was on restorative justice. But I think it again raises the culture divide raised by Campbell and Manning.
Giving the restorative justice strategy a chance
Alex R. Piquero is chair of the Department of Sociology and Arts & Sciences Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @DrAlexPiquero
Imagine losing your brother to a police officer’s mistake. Imagine sleeping for three days after being hit in the head with a skateboard and concussed. Now, imagine forgiving the two people who did that to you. Not easy. But it happened.
A few years ago in Dallas Texas, Botham Jean was shot and killed in his own apartment by Dallas police officer Amber Guyger, who was returning home from work. She mistakenly entered Botham’s apartment, thinking it was her own, and shot Botham dead. At Guyger’s sentencing, Brandt Jean, the brother of Botham Jean, asked the judge if he could walk off the witness stand and give Amber a hug. The judge agreed and Brandt gave Amber a hug, told her he forgave her and said he did not want her to go to prison. Imagine how hard that was.
Just this past June, the city of Miami, like other cities around the country, witnessed protests in honor of George Floyd, who was killed by a Minneapolis police officer. David Ovalle wrote an exceptional piece in the Miami Herald about a Black Miami officer, Raymon Washington, who was struck on the head by a 17-year-old Black male, Michael Marshall. The two met on Oct. 12 at the State’s Attorney’s conference room at the Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse. Officer Washington sat next to Michael as Michael read a three-page letter of apology. At the conclusion of the reading, Raymon gave Michael his cell phone and offered to drive him home after football practice and even helped to arrange tutoring. Imagine how hard that was for Officer Washington.
These two examples of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation are part of a larger strategy called restorative justice. Basically, this punishment philosophy embraces the idea that people are not bad but instead that they do bad things. As part of their sentence, they are to speak to the victim and communicate with sincerity the remorse they have and how they will atone for their acts not just to the victim but to the community more generally.
In a nutshell, it falls on offenders doing what they can to then be reintegrated back into the community. But it also falls on the victim to do their part. When this works, as it did in these two cases, justice is better served, it is smarter, and relationships can heal and grow.
This is not easy. But these two stories of two men who were hurt by the acts of another person should be an inspiration to all of us. We have too many people fixated on revenge and not enough on the power of forgiveness, redemption and reconciliation. The actions of Brandt Jean and Raymon are a call of duty, if you will, as we attempt to heal both physical and emotional wounds.
We can punish and we can forgive. Treating these as mutually exclusive things will only continue the polarization that exists in many facets of our world today. It is time for us to move on.
Tampa Bay Times, November 23, 2020, Opinion