What to Do With This Story?
You may have already read the lengthy New York Times Magazine cover story on the young man who killed his girlfriend, and the restorative justice process that appears to have brought some closure to her family. It’s a powerful article; her parents are very, very strong people, and their ability to meaningfully forgive their daughter’s killer is more than laudable. There were those of us, however, who read the story, and didn’t see a scared young man who needed redemption and has done hard work to achieve it, but an abuser with a history of physically assaulting his girlfriend who then finally finished the job, while (by his own account) she knelt on the ground, begging him to stop.
Feministe‘s Jill Filipovic talks about the difficulty of applying a wonderful tool (restorative justice) to a particular set of cases (domestic violence), and the additional burden placed on the process when the real victim is unable to speak:
Restorative justice ideally centers a victim’s needs. But what of the many victims (usually women) who are intimately involved with the people (usually men) who commit crimes against them? What of the fact that abusers are often expert manipulators, and rely on community support and “but he’s such a nice guy!” to get away with repeated acts of violence? What of the inherent power imbalance between the victim and the abuser? What of community norms that are often accepting of abuse, or that see it as a personal problem and not a criminal act of violence?
Rebecca Hamilton, in her own response, worries about the sentencing ramifications of victim-centered justice:
Murder is not a private affair. It is a crime against both humanity and society. Families who are suffering the grief of losing someone to murder can not be the ones who determine the punishment. In the confusion and irrationality of their grief, some of them would have people burned alive for what were accidents, while others of them would, as in this case, ask to have cold-blooded murderers with a history of violent abusiveness turned loose after serving less time than a bank robber.
Where do we go with this, then? Is it a moving story about two people who did what they had to do to live the rest of their lives? Is it about the transformational power of accepting your own responsibility for having committed a terrible act? Is it about a process that can be both kinder and sharper than a conventional trial?
Distilled to its essence, perhaps this is just the story of an unsecured, loaded firearm left in a family home with a young man with a history of battering a young woman he professed to love.