Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth

Restorative Justice In Oakland And The East Bay – Morgan Bach

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Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth
Restorative Justice For Oakland Youth

In 2015, I went through a restorative justice training in Oakland with RJOY (Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth), and I learned that it takes a community to heal a community.

When I found out that restorative justice was starting to replace suspensions and expulsions in Oakland schools, it made so much sense. Young people obviously benefit more from being called in to their communities than being shamed or exiled. By then I also understood that making sense is a kind of resistance, because our current policies aren’t designed to reduce harm. They actively destroy communities and perpetuate cycles of trauma.

What if a young person who caused harm was told that they matter, that they have it in them to make better choices, and that they’ll be supported? That’s what a restorative justice circle does, and the investment that Oakland schools have put into RJ practices has resulted in more than just a symbolic showing of care for students.

The Oakland Public Schools Restorative Justice effort has employed staff in schools whose sole purpose is to promote social and emotional health. It has created safe places for students to express themselves without shame or judgement. It has even trained and empowered students to practice calling in their peers when they face conflict, without any intervention. I wish my classmates and I had had that kind of education in school.

As a young person, I learned that punishing people and banning things were the way to solve problems in society. I wasn’t really challenged to think outside of that box. I wasn’t shown an alternative, or taught about indigenous practices, like restorative justice. It took a lot of learning and unlearning to become a harm reduction enthusiast.

Another organization I’ve trained with is the SEEDS Community Resolution Center in Berkeley. There I learned the basics of mediation, which is another restorative practice that is becoming a more popular way of settling disputes outside of court. The beauty of mediation is that it doesn’t involve an external judge or expensive lawyer – it is at its heart a safe container for a conflict to be resolved by the people affected. Mediators are trained to create and maintain this space, and it’s not an easy task. Often there are differences in power that haven’t been addressed, and painful histories, traumas, and emotions that emerge.

Like restorative justice, mediation empowers people by getting to the heart of the conflict, rather than escalating, isolating, or punishing. I see the rise in popularity of these models as extremely promising for the East Bay and any community in need of justice that empowers and heals.

  • Steve Lowe

    Thanks, Zennie!

    Seems to a lot of folks that justice of any sort depends a lot on the efficacy of whatever enforcement apparatus is in place to administer it.

    And that in turn requires resources that are, in almost every case, beyond the means of Oakland, California due to its low standing among its economic partners here in the Bay Area, i.e., its so-called sister cities.

    Look at the Homeless=Housing crisis that we’re wrestling with right now: while foundations contribute millions to the Emerald City in hopes of solving problems on that side of the Bay, Oakland gets bupkus and has to depend on an already way too-stretched line item in an already way too-constricted budget. Yet West Oakland has disproportionately more homeless folks per capita than anywhere, all huddled beneath freeway structures built – mostly without compensation to the once-thriving neighborhoods they destroyed – to facilitate the daily commute.

    And all the while, the burgeoning population of the makeshift encampments is, like in the Southern California Hepititis A outbreak, breeding disease, crime, child abuse, etc., all the same sort of horrors that readers were subjected to a whole century ago when the Muckrakers were every day spotlighting New York’s neglect of its poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

    The Bay Area is frequently acclaimed as the “Strongest Regional Economy in the World” and therefore ought to be evolving toward a more wholesome and inclusive economic ethos, yes? But it is not, mostly due to turf issues and “old school” leadership from the very same kind of genteel folks whose old school education no doubt includes the sanctification of photogenic heroes like Robert E. Lee, Andrew Jackson and a whole old school host of other icky icons.

    Maybe the promise of Restorative Justice will have to wait until we can identify the leader or faction of leadership that will help us understand that there’s something here to restore in the first place – not just perpetuation of the same old glaring hole in the Bay Area’s siliconic sense of community.

    Thanks,

    – S