Nonviolence in the Justice System

Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth near the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

This week, after the Nonviolence Report. Nonviolence Radio broadcasts a recording of a speech from the keynote from the Association for the Contemplative Mind in Higher Education’s 2017 conference by Dr. Fania Davis. As the founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, a legal scholar, and a decades-long activist in the civil rights anti-racial violence, anti-apartheid, Black liberation, women’s, prisoner’s, peace, socialist and anti-imperialist movements, Dr. Davis talks about the power of restorative justice — as opposed to retributive justice — to heal and bring together communities fractured by violence, racism, fear and rage. 

What is restorative justice? It is a worldview, rooted in indigenous principles, and a theory of justice that emphasizes bringing together everyone affected by wrongdoing to address their needs and responsibilities and to heal the harm as much as possible. To heal the harm as much as possible. It is a worldview rooted in indigenous principles and a theory of justice.

Our prevailing justice system is based on a Roman notion of just desserts. If I do harm, the scales of justice become imbalanced and the only way to rebalance is to do harm to me. 

Restorative justice invites a paradigm shift. 

The three questions retributive justice asks are, “What rule was broken? Who broke it? And what punishment is deserved?”

The three questions restorative justice asks are, “Who was harmed? What are the needs and responsibilities of everyone impacted? And how do all impacted come together to address needs and responsibilities and heal the harm?

By drawing on her strengths as both a (wisdom, spiritual) warrior and a healer, Dr. Davis has helped bring about massive changes in the Oakland public schools. The use of restorative justice practices has raised graduation rates, drastically decreased the numbers of suspensions and absences and is starting to loosen the tight grip of racism on the education system and our society. The possibility of genuine healing depends on making space — creating a circle — where every voice matters and every voice is heard.

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