"Restorative justice” is a practice that aims to foster dialogue between victims of crime and criminal offenders. It’s the opposite of punitive justice—find somebody guilty, lock ’em up, end of story. This new social movement is a policy squarely at odds with the bare-knuckled philosophies of retribution being espoused at the campaign rallies of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Thankfully, it is the restorative approach that’s being applied by the San Diego Unified School District in the case of the officer-involved melee at Lincoln High School.
There are detractors who say this practice coddles criminal offenders. It stands to reason, however, that a policy aiming to create longer-term solutions—and one that flies in the face of a presidential contender who condones roughing up protesters and suggests he might pay legal fees for supporters who do so—deserves a fair chance in the public square.
Lincoln’s on-campus police officer encountered a group of students “play fighting” on Feb. 26. He intervened and then followed one student into a parking garage. Ultimately, students were pepper sprayed and one teenager was knocked out by a Taser. Officer Bashir Abdi was hospitalized after he was punched in the stomach and struck on the back of his head.
We’d know more about the specifics of the incident if the school’s surveillance video was released to the public. As continues to be the misplaced policy of the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, the video is being withheld.
Three students are being charged as juveniles on offenses ranging from assault on a police officer to theft and vandalism. The father of one of the accused teenagers is Brandon Duncan, a rap artist who goes by the name “Tiny Doo.” Last year, he was charged by DA Bonnie Dumanis under a controversial gang conspiracy law; those charges were thrown out by a judge.
Officer Abdi was involved in another incident in which he tased a student, and also had a previous run-in with another of Duncan’s sons.
While a court date looms, the three students have not been expelled from school. They’re being charged with felonies in juvenile court, were released to home confinement and one teen has been allowed to transfer to another school so he can try out for the track team.
It’s all part of a restorative-justice effort, says school superintendent Cindy Marten. “We know there are people who are going to say you’re not being tough and you’re not going to teach these kids a lesson,” she said in an interview on KUSI-TV.
Marten said the school system is being respectful of the judicial system but also wants to allow students to continue their education while facing the penal system. At the proper time, Marten says, “We’ll get our students together and they will have a conversation in a facilitated setting to talk about the harm that was caused, and how do you repair that harm. It’s a very structured dialogue and it takes time. It’s not where people say ‘I’m sorry’ and then it’s a fake sorry.”
Marten said The National Conflict Resolution Center has provided information on restorative justice, and points to a pilot program in place in City Heights that is showing progress.
“You face your victims and have a dialogue,” Marten said. “There’s no getting away with something… The charges are serious but what we’re looking for is how to not repeat. Recidivism is what we’re trying to change. When somebody truly understands and realizes how they hurt others around them the chance of recidivism goes down.”
If video and a trial show that the students deserve to be punished, then punish them. The NAACP, incidentally, is off base to insist the charges against the three teens be summarily dropped. However the case is decided, though, it’ll eventually be worth the effort to have a cop and some kids face off in a moderated setting and let each side digest the consequences of their actions.
Meanwhile, Trump appears to believe the Hammurabi Code’s “eye-for-an eye” mandate isn’t strict enough. Sorry, but sucker punching nonviolent protesters is not making America great again. Restorative justice, on the other hand, is a sensible counterbalance to a world gone Trump.