Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 8.28.08

Restorative Justice
How do we recreate the connections?
by Mark Harris

Restorative justice is broadly contrasted from the usual system of retributive justice by the underlying belief that crime occurs because the relationship connections that prevent crime have been broken or severed. To the degree that punishment works, whether as a deterrent, or as consequence of someone’s actions, it does not address the issues of the social connections which have been severed or frayed. Michael Clay, a longtime resident, musician and community elder (at least in terms of attainment in age) was attacked by two white teenagers in a manner, by a means, echoing the slaying of Mulageta Seraw, an Ethiopian father in Portland, by racist skinheads, using a baseball bat, instead of the fish club that was used against Clay. 

Whether or not the word nigger or any other racial epithet was used during the attack, or there is any other overt evidence meeting the definition of a hate crime, the simple fact remains that two able-bodied teenagers attacked an older man walking with a cane. One can cast aspersions on parents who through possible neglect raise cowards, and one can possibly sue said parents or their legally adult children for the costs of medical bills and pain and suffering, but as Clay pointed out (EW cover story 8/14), the attack itself points to a degradation in community values, which cannot simply be repaired by marches and vigils. 

I offer an analogy: If former Eugene Symphony music director Marin Alsop had been attacked while jogging on the bike path or Amazon, we’d be even more shocked, the outcry would be greater, even though violence against women in this community is even more commonplace. We live in a society where even a Rosa Parks can be rolled by a crackhead for her purse, without the crackhead even knowing who Rosa Parks was. 

Two teenagers were raised without sufficient empathy towards the pain and suffering of others, in order to inflict pain and suffering on another. Regardless of the divisions of race, gender and class, whether you can blame it on parents, videogames, television or lack of education, the problem remains how to restore the social connections that prevent such behavior and worse behaviors in the future.

Clearly social connections had been established that made the attack on Michael Clay “normal” behavior. It’s beyond dispute that there remain historical traditions dating back to the formation of the state, and within Eugene history, that support so-called hate crimes. When the kids go to prison, they will be considered heroes by the white supremacist gang members that infest the so-called corrections system and remain a consistent presence in our community. 

Retributive justice can sentence them to prison, coerce them into paying restitution and doing community service upon their release, but that will probably be the end of it. We will still have a community in which women, minorities and vulnerable others can be assaulted, exploited and denied equal protection or access to safety. 

I don’t worry in particular about walking late at night in my neighborhood, but I also never go walking without considering possible lines of attack. Perhaps It’s paranoia, perhaps it’s prudence, but it is an indicator that the justification for fear is not imaginary.

How do we restore severed relationships? I would suggest the larger community consider the establishment of a cross-cultural rites-of-passage program, parallel or in tandem with what LCC has been doing for more than a decade with kids of color. What would a nonracist, nonsexist, nonheterosexist, an-archist (without hierarchy/class/caste) Anglo culture look like? If there were class distinctions, it would be for one’s ability to bring different people together across their conflicts and utilize their diversity, not create fear because of it. An-archy in its original sense does not mean chaos; it means without hierarchy. In cultures of tradition (aka “primitive indigenous people of color”), a chief or an elder is selected by the people for the ability to unite people, not to instill fear in them. Not to lead from above, but to move them from within. This requires a network of interrelationships generally invisible to Western anthropologists. 

How do we illuminate and eliminate the divisions and differences that divide us so that instead of asking for a cigarette and beating a black man, random white teenagers know him and escort him home as the Boy Scouts were reputed to do in walking elderly ladies across the street, back in my day? 

How do we restore or recreate those connections?

Mark Harris is an instructor in ethnic studies and substance abuse prevention at LCC.



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