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Several people or articles have described the “beer summit” between Professor Gates and Officer Crowley at the White House, facilitated by President Obama, as restorative justice or or a restorative approach. It is interesting to reflect on this in light of Catherine Bargen’s observations about terminology in an earlier blog entry (“Is there justice in restorative?”).
Certainly it seems to have been consistent with a restorative approach or practice. The methodology was respectful dialogue, apparently with President Obama serving as facilitator. Clearly it helped to humanize the “other,” providing a space to hear one another’s perspective, and to in doing so to develop some empathy for one another as a person and in their roles. As any good restorative practice should, it seems to some extent to have addressed the future; at least participants talked about looking ahead and plan at least one further meeting.
How much the justice issues were addressed we don’t know. Did they explicitly address the harms? Did they talk about all about accountability and obligations? This isn’t clear, at least from the reports I’ve seen.
So it’s probably best categorized as a restorative practice rather than restorative justice, but what we call it isn’t really important at this point. What is crucial is that these men have modeled a process and some values that are terribly important. In doing so, they have contributed significantly to the kind of dialogue this country needs on race and policing.
As the fields of restorative justice, conflict transformation and trauma work all emphasize, conflict is an opportunity. Out of hurt can come growth. (A poster idea: Conflict is opportunity – don’t waste it.)
At his news conference, Officer Crowley did suggest that at the next meeting perhaps they wouldn’t drink alcohol in order to avoid the impression that beer is an essential ingredient to such dialogues. Good point.