Week 4: Transformative Justice
Supplies needed: candle, pen, paper, access to audio and video capabilities
Supplies needed: candle, pen, paper, access to audio and video capabilities
Ruth Wilson Gilmore once wrote, “Abolition is not absence, it is presence. What the world will become already exists in fragments and pieces, experiments and possibilities.” As it is, police abolition is not only about abolishing the police; it is a movement to build new cultures. Transformative justice offers an alternative to policing and its origins in centralized control, surveillance and punishment. Transformative justice also gives us the opportunity to consider that policing is larger than individual police officers. We each live out retributive justice – at work, in our parenting, among our friends and towards ourselves.
Ending policing extends to our whole lives as we address the conditions and the ways we have each been formed to accept retribution and punishment as normative. Today, we’ll explore how transformative justice offers a set of tools and a way of imagining the world that draw us into the hopeful future of God’s reign among us.
Facilitator prepares a candle and reads these instructions:
Take any object you have, from a purse, bag, or from around the room, and place it around the candle, or hold it up to the screen if you are in meeting online.
Facilitator lights the candle and reads the litany:
We place these objects to mark the ordinary spaces in the lives of people of color, but especially black people, that are under surveillance, scrutinized and policed:
In grocery stores and at hotels
In their homes and in their cars
Entering their homes and visiting friends
Walking down the street and sitting in a park
Birdwatching and playing tag
Attending a college class and visiting a nursing home
We pray against menacing hopelessness
Maintain a time of silence.
The theologian and professor Willie Jennings discusses his first memories of encountering the police and the lasting impact. [Link]
Facilitator plays the audio clip (Listen to the excerpt: 2:31-6:16) and then holds silence for 60 seconds.
Transcript of the audio:
“I remember my first time. You never forget your first time. The first time a white police officer pulls you over. I was 14 and riding a brand new bicycle that my eldest brother had bought for me on my birthday. I had outgrown the old Stingray bike I rode all over town and this extraordinary gift from my brother marked a step into young adulthood.
It also marked, unfortunately, a step into the sickening ordinary that would be part of my life. The police officer yelled from his car, “Get off the bike.” I quickly obeyed, remembering the words of my father and my brothers: “Stay out of trouble. Do what they tell you.”
“Whose bike is this?” he asked. “Mine,” I said. “Sit on the curb and don’t move,” the officer instructed me as he took my bike back to the patrol car. Sitting on the curb now, I watched as people drove by, watching me sitting near flashing lights, and I wished someone, anyone who knew me and knew the good church boy that I was, who knew that, would drive by, stop, and help me. The only person who came by who knew me was another kid from school riding his bike. Keeping his distance, smart kid that he was, he yelled, “I knew he was going to pull you over because you were riding a nice bike.”
This was the first time I felt that helplessness. I did not feel helpless because there was nothing I could do. I felt helpless because there was nothing that this police officer could do to me that I could stop in any way. After what seemed like hours to check the serial number on my bike, he told me, “You can take it and go.” That was it. No apology, no words of advice or wisdom. He just drove off.
I have had such encounters with police officers multiple times in every decade of my life. 14, 24, 34, 44, 54. Not exactly on the fours, but exactly with the same dynamic. I was pulled over or stopped on the street or stopped in a store. I had done nothing. They were looking. I sat or stood, waiting, and then they left. Each encounter returned that feeling of helplessness that said to me, if I make one wrong statement or gesture or sudden movement, I would be jailed or killed. This kind of helplessness forms you for a lifelong fight against a menacing hopelessness.”
Facilitator or participants read the Scripture aloud.
Colossians 2:6-15 (NRSV)
As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness in him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when he forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.
Facilitator invites people to take a piece of paper and make two columns. Label one column “human traditions” and the other “baptismal life.” Then read aloud:
Paul warns the church at Colossae of “philosophies” “according to human tradition” that found their way into the community. For the people in the Colossians community this looked like condemning certain food and drink, keeping festivals or sabbaths.
Discuss the difference between “human traditions” and the gospel proclaimed by Paul.
Facilitator plays the animated video clip and invites participants to answer the question that follows.
In this video, “Jay Z: The War on Drugs Is an Epic Fail,” you’ll learn about the history of the war on drugs and how it impacted Black futures. [Link]
Facilitator shows the second video on accountability.
“What is Accountability?” video (Length 5:01) [Link]
Facilitator reads the description of transformative justice and leads the discussion with the questions that follow.
Description of transformative justice by Mia Mingus, from TransformHarm.org:
Transformative Justice (TJ) is a political framework and approach for responding to violence, harm and abuse. At its most basic, it seeks to respond to violence without creating more violence and/or engaging in harm reduction to lessen the violence. TJ can be thought of as a way of “making things right,” getting in “right relation,” or creating justice together. Transformative justice responses and interventions 1) do not rely on the state (e.g. police, prisons, the criminal legal system, I.C.E., foster care system (though some TJ responses do rely on or incorporate social services like counseling); 2) do not reinforce or perpetuate violence such as oppressive norms or vigilantism; and most importantly, 3) actively cultivate the things we know prevent violence such as healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved.
Questions for discussion:
The facilitator chooses a few of the questions below to answer as a group (you likely won’t have time to answer all):
Visit the Transform Harm website.
Watch the full video series, “Building Accountable Communities.”
Gather your church or local community to work through the Creative Interventions Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Stop Interpersonal Violence.