I eat a steady diet of reality crime shows, cultivated by an early interest in forensics. I recently caught the episode “The Last Dance” of the show “The Perfect Murder.” In the show’s last frame, Karen Silas tells of meeting in prison her daughter’s killer where he apologized. Silas said the expression of remorse “was so freeing.” Without giving the meeting a name, Silas had engaged in restorative justice. Restorative justice is a form of punishment where an offender accepts responsibility and takes the chance to repair the hurt the offender caused.
In our latest town hall against racism on Saturday, Aug. 22, many called for harsh punishment (suspension, expulsion even criminal charges) for those found culpable for a reported n-word written on a residence hall white board. As a former prosecutor, I share in the call for clear and swift retribution. I also, however, pledge fidelity to our race-based incident protocol which provides for restorative justice in principle number three to “Educate the offender and repair the harm when possible.”
Let me be clear, I am not saying people who engage in race-based hate do not deserve to be banished from the community. I am saying that our protocol reflects tenets of American justice.
When we talk of living out our shared Ship values, those are not just empty words. We, at our core, believe in the power of education as the agent for change in individuals and the world. We choose to act with civility and respect for each other. In determining justice, we should not separate our value system from other societal challenges we confront. Privacy laws dictate secrecy in resolving code of conduct violations. Let us ask whether having a chance to confront the offender and hear their voice in repairing harm, listening to the community’s pain, accepting training on the issue of race and discrimination, may be of equal value to anonymous banishment? As Karen Silas discovered, the exchange with a remorseful offender may be a vehicle to greater freedom from the hurt caused.