(Photo by Diane Gumm)
In March of 1994, in my former role as Bureau Chief in the Criminal Bureau of the Polk County (Iowa) attorney’s office, I read a troubling police report. A few days earlier, members of the Temple B’nai Jeshurun in Des Moines awoke to find neo-Nazi graffiti scrawled on the side of their synagogue. There were no immediate suspects but there was anguish, anger, and outrage. At one level, the incident was a galvanizing experience, bringing together the religious community of Des Moines in a way that I had never witnessed. However, the incident also brought forth shadows normally hidden within many good and well-intentioned people, who cried out for a justice that had the character of that sought by vigilantes and lynch mobs.
After two weeks of uncertainty throughout the community, police made two arrests. Charged with felony criminal mischief were an 18 year old male and his 17 year old girlfriend. I decided to hold onto the case rather than assign it to one of the felony prosecutors. I did so less because of the facts and more for the possibilities.
"Permaculture for the People"; Photo by planet a. via Flickr.
Humans are inextricably connected to the earth. We inhabit, breathe, drink, and eat this strange blue globe that is our only home. The oldest religious traditions recognized this scientific claim by weaving stories, almost myths-as-memory, which describe humans as creatures crafted from the dirt: adam and adama, human and humus, culture and cultivate. Indeed, the plurality of human cultures grows from natural biodiversity. And we are social animals, dependent for better and worse on lives beyond ourselves. Restorative justice agrees by stating that society is interconnected, which reframes crime as the cause and effect of damaged relationships and disconnection from a sense of belonging. If this is true, then the proper response to crime, to the violation of people and interpersonal relationships, is the obligation to make things as right as possible, which includes the rehabilitation of the offender.
But rehabilitation to what? If crime is personal and societal, which are interconnected, then simply rehabilitating offenders to this broken locus, especially after the alienating and shaming force of prison, can perpetuate the cycle of violence, evident in recidivism and incarceration rates. The legal system also alienates victims by emphasizing crime as an offense to the state. If restorative justice is right, then situating crime in the nexus of social relatedness demands the restoration of society itself, which should include the realization that we are also embedded in nonhuman life.
I found the application for STAR – Strategies for Trauma Awareness and Resilience – while surfing the net late at night. I was searching for some type of retreat or renewal, something that would help me sort through the grief of my grandmother’s death and the early stages of burnout in my church. My wife was surprised that the STAR description caught my attention. I had not been a victim of trauma. Trauma was not something I had talked about. I wasn’t even sure what the connection was, but I was drawn to the training.
After completing the STAR workshops, I tried to figure out how to adapt my STAR experience to my ministry with youth. Along the way I had an epiphany. The description of trauma victims seemed closely linked to the psychological issues and difficult experiences of adolescence. I started to reorient my middle-school youth ministry. I treated both the youth and parents, who were living in a time of constant change and upheaval, as people who were experiencing trauma. I provided resources and I asked questions that reframed their perspective. The results were positive.
(Photo by Rachel Titiriga via Flickr)
If you live or work with young people, it’s likely that you’ve felt their enthusiasm when a good idea catches their imagination, or listened to their laughter and banter as they hang out with friends.
But you may also observe behaviors that concern you: irritability, anger, aggressiveness, withdrawal, feeling sad, substance abuse, cutting, or getting in trouble with the law.
The root of distress in young people can be trauma, the result of experiencing or witnessing something that involves a threat to survival. Or the trauma can be from growing up in an unsafe environment where layers of trauma are undercurrents that can explode on a daily basis.
Viewing young people’s experiences and behaviors through a trauma lens provides a way of understanding them, and of knowing how to reach out in supportive ways.
Lost in translation? (Koru photo adapted from Jonathon Colman via Flickr.)
When a few of us on staff and faculty at the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP) came together last year to begin discussing the possibility of doing an online course – something we had never done before – we were met with some resistance, not the least of which came from Howard Zehr, Professor of Restorative Justice at CJP and a pioneer in the field.
Fast-forward one year: Howard and Brenda Waugh (MA ’09) are now three weeks into teaching the class, “Recovering the Vision: Conversations on Restorative Justice,” which is being carried out completely online. The students – all practitioners – hail from diverse locales in North America, Europe, and Australia. First-year MA student, Jenn Bricker, and I have had the pleasure of helping Howard and Brenda facilitate this course. And from deep skepticism, Howard has now become a strong advocate of the possibilities of CJP doing more online. What happened in the course of that year?
Carl Stauffer (center), practicing the art
We were stunned to silence as a hushed whisper fell over the meeting hall. Representatives of the “enemy” village had just walked in unexpectedly, interrupting a community peace meeting we were facilitating. Vusi, my South African colleague and I had been toiling for months on a peacebuilding process in Majola, a rural region of the Eastern Cape Province in South Africa, consisting of 32 villages dotting the mountain side. Vusi and I had been invited by community leaders to accompany the Majola region in a quest for peace after the shooting death of two high school girls in January of 2001. These young girls, in school uniform and unarmed were caught in cross-fire while walking to school. This was more than the community could bear and a call to end this decadal violence was sounded.
In the 1960s this “enemy” village started a cycle of violence when they assassinated a chief from another village. In retaliation, the offended village raided the offending village and stole all their cattle (stock-theft). The revenge cycle of stock-theft continued with other villages being drawn in and an increasing number of killings occurring among the cattle thieves on both sides. In December of 1998, after decades of raids and violence, a gun battle broke out in the community leaving 16 persons dead in its wake. The national army was called in to stop the killing and restore “order.”
David Anderson Hooker, instructor at SPI 2012
After teaching at EMU during the regular terms and at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute (SPI) for a number of years, this past September I began a PhD program at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands, where my general area of study is Social Construction. This summer I will be teaching again at SPI, facilitating Multi-party Conflict Resolution as well as a training session for STAR: Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience.
My social constructionist perspective impacts the way I frame multi-party conflict because in my estimation there is not one “reality” that we are helping people to see, but rather the process of multiparty mediation and consensus-building is to create a shared meaning and an agreement about how to collaborate and “perform the meaning” that is made.
STAR workshops combine aspects of psychosocial trauma, restorative Justice, conflict transformation, community peacebuilding, and spirituality toward the development of healthy individuals, communities, and societies. In STAR it is interesting to consider that all of those fields, even spirituality, can be thought of as metaphorical frames in a process of assisting individuals and communities in establishing positive peace. Negative peace is simply the absence of war; whereas Galtung and others describe ‘positive peace’ as a circumstance in which structural violence and the impediments to a high quality of life are also removed at the interpersonal, intrapersonal, societal, and global/environmental level.
Roy Hange, instructor of "Faith-based Peacebuilding" at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute
Over the years of teaching faith-based peacebuilding I have met students who are heroes of hope. Among them were:
- A nurse trainer who educates student nurses from three religious backgrounds to work with patients from the same three religious backgrounds. This nurse came with a vision to incorporate peacebuilding into the education of nurses.
- A professor of peacebuilding who has worked with former militants from religiously oriented conflicts and instilled in them a vision for peacebuilding. This student came with the vision of a better future for his country and faith community.
- A woman peacebuilder who returned to her war-torn country with a new vision for how the work of faith-based peacebuilding can bring hope. This student came with the vision for an end to war in her country.
- A producer of children’s television programming with a vision of integrating peacebuilding with the dominant faith of her home country. This student came with the vision that the next generation in her country would not face the challenges she did.
I have also seen fascinating things happen when these heroes of hope become friends in joining their visions and experiences in classroom discussions that spill over into lunch time conversations.
Photo by Jeff Frost via Flickr
In an impassioned op-ed piece over at NationofChange, Christopher Petrella paints a troubling picture of the state of corrections in the United States and the paths which brought us here. Particularly troubling is what Petrella calls “the circuitous pathways between race, citizenship, containment, and profitability.”
Not only is the phenomenon of for-profit prisons becoming more common, in the midst of state budget crises across the nation, California is even suggesting that inmates pay for the services of the correctional facilities to which they’re being sent. How inmates from predominantly impoverished backgrounds would actually be able to pay for those services (they couldn’t) is part of the scheme. Even after leaving facilities, ex-offenders would then be financially indebted to the facilities, effectively shifting their “incarceration” to another form, economic. As Petrella point out, these people cease to be “criminals” in the eyes of the system and now become “consumers.”
Negotiating at Occupy Chicago; (Photo by Michael Kappel via Flickr)
James Cavanaugh, a retired ATF executive, offers a good picture of the role of police in the #occupy movement in this op-ed piece posted to Tickle the Wire, a site focused on federal law enforcement.
Most notably, he encourages the “greatly underutilized” resources of police negotiators to form relationships and build trust with #occupy movement leaders, and to coordinate plans on a day-to-day basis. As Cavanaugh states, “It does not mean that the police will do everything that the protesters want, but it insurers that police will not act without first building trust and communication.”
This to me seems right on. Part of the problem I’ve seen in citizen coverage of police presence in the #occupy movement is the militarized/SWAT stance. Granted, there is also a problem with how many in the movement view and antagonize police (including in said citizen coverage), so it’s not like protesters are beyond implication. Less emphasis should placed on militarized police forces and more placed on building collaborative relationships with protesters, and a segment of protesters/citizen journalists should stop demonizing the police. Such moves could encourage an already mostly-nonviolent movement to stay that way, and keep them on course toward substantive change.