Restoring Justice, Restoring Community

A tragedy in Denver this week where a young man opened fire in a movie theatre. By chance I clicked on this article about one of the victims, Jessica Redfield, who was on Twitter that night. Her brother, Jordan Ghawi, blogged about the phone call from his mother and the events that transpired. Here are some excerpts of his updates:

1315 (local): Established a temporary base camp at the local NBC affiliate with Peter Burns. Going to continue to give interviews until the victims names are remembered and not the coward of a shooter.

2005 (local time): Been doing interviews all day in the name of my sister and all the other victims.

2200(local time): Peter and I will not be fielding anymore interviews tonight. Thank you so much to ABC, NBC, CNN, FOX, and CBS. Special thank to Anderson Cooper. You have all brought Jessica’s story forward. We can only hope that we can do the same with the rest of the victims.

In the interview with Anderson Cooper Jordan was asked why he wants to talk (about his sister). He responded that it's not just his sister, he wants the stories of all the victims shared. His reasoning? He doesn't want the media saturated with the shooter's name, contributing to his fame. Instead he wants the victims to be remembered.

It's interesting reading the comments to Jordan's blog post. The ones that call for justice remind me of the recent talk I attended by Dr. Theo Gavrielides in Vancouver about using restorative justice:

“Restorative justice is not about unraveling and discussing the reasons behind group violence – it's only for those who accepted what they did. Once you have knowledge of the harm, there is an opportunity to put it right.”

The restorative justice model involves alternatives to incarceration and punishment – such as accountability circles and meetings where offenders hear about the impact of their acts on victims. Gavrielides said that the evidence shows that the model has proven effective in redressing a range of offenses – and also offers the community more opportunities for healing, something he said the “sterile” criminal justice system cannot do.

Peter Block's words are also coming back to me from his book Community: The Structure of Belonging:

Whatever the symptom-drugs, deteriorating houses, poor economy, displacement, violence-it is when citizens stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others, that things really happen.

The future of a community then becomes a choice between a retributive conversation (a problem to be solved) and a restorative conversation (a possibility to be lived into).

We focus on gifts because what we focus on, we strengthen.

Jordan isn't interested in spending his time “unraveling and discussing the reasons behind the violence”.  I sense that in Jordan's story sharing about his sister he is trying to shift from a retributive conversation to a restorative one, choosing to focus on the gifts of his sister and the other victims so it is the impact of their gifts that are strengthened, not the obsession with the violence. And he's not waiting for any professional or elected official – he's doing something about it himself.

My deep condolences to the families and communities affected by this. I hope that in this dark time the seeds of community healing that Jordan is planting grow bright with a new possibility and a new story for Denver.