By Dr. Willie Keaton
In light of the immensely successful Brooklyn Village & Restorative Justice Listening Session (August 22th, 2019), I thought it was time to have a conversation around; What exactly is Restorative Justice?
I am convinced that if you asked five well informed individuals to define Restorative Justice you would receive five different answers. First, let me say context is important and each situation deserves a different level of “unpacking” in terms of defining Restorative Justice. Having said that, Restorative Justice is basically the process that facilitates reconciliation between two parties where injustice has occurred.
Restorative Justice has been used historically within the criminal justice system where an offender makes amends to a victim producing reconciliation between the two parties. However, Restorative Justice (using a literal definition of the term) can be applied more broadly.
Where there has been injustice, Restorative Justice can be utilized. Where there has been racism and that racism led to harm, Restorative Justice is applicable.
In the case of Brooklyn and 2nd Ward, Restorative Justice is an appropriate path. The facts state that despite the outcry of local black leaders, the City Council voted in 1958 to demolish an entire black community consisting of 1,400 homes, 216 business, 11 churches, 2 schools, libraries and theaters. That is the act. That is the crime that makes Restorative Justice necessary. An entire community with a rich culture, the black wall street of Charlotte, was eliminated – wiped off the face of uptown Charlotte.
The next phase of the criminal justice process after a guilty declaration is the penalty phase. The court ponders, “What is the appropriate restitution for the crime which has been committed?” In the case of Brooklyn and Second Ward the question becomes, “How do we adequately compensate the victims of a crime which had significant economic impact on two generations of African Americans in Charlotte?” Restorative Justice seeks to answer this dilemma. Restorative Justice seeks to reconcile the people of Charlotte who seem to be divided by class and poverty.
Restorative Justice says historically it was a crime to take away land and businesses from taxpayers. Restorative Justice says it was an unethical and immoral act to segregate the city in the 1960’s the way it did through urban renewal. Restorative Justice says it’s time for the City of Charlotte to acknowledge and make amends to what happened to the black wall street of Charlotte, Brooklyn and Second Ward.