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Courage to repair

Mar 19, 2010

from the editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

A racist prank perpetrated outside the University of Missouri's Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center 11 days ago has evoked a reassuring response.

The two undergraduates — Zachary E. Tucker and Sean D. Fitzgerald — tried to make a mockery of the bitter history of black servitude. They scattered cotton balls outside the culture center under cover of night.

But their crude handiwork was greeted with sharp and universal condemnation. Both students were identified and suspended from school.

Last week, they were arrested. The Boone County prosecutor is weighing whether to pursue criminal charges.

On Friday, the students apologized for their misconduct. They acknowledged in a statement issued through their lawyers that they had exercised "inexcusable judgment." They claimed what happened was "totally out of character" and expressed hope "for the opportunity to prove this to the community."

The university and student organizations, meanwhile, responded with a campus-wide celebration of unity on Friday. Other public programs are in the works.

This much is clear: Missouri's flagship public university and the community in which it is situated will not tolerate overt racist behavior, even if it stems from a stupid jest.

Do the students have the courage, the community the imagination and victims of the misconduct the willingness to work toward a more lasting resolution?

That may come through "restorative justice," a movement centered on providing a forum for offenders to take responsibility for their actions by accepting punishment and trying to repair the harm they have done. Offenders are counseled to acknowledge and understand the impact their actions have had on others and to take concrete steps to make amends.

....Marc H. Morial, president of the National Urban League, was in St. Louis on Monday as part of the organization's centennial celebration. When asked about the incident at the University of Missouri, he observed that "one of the fundamental aspects of the civil rights ethos" as laid down by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is a "redemptive component."

It asks, he said, how what occurred can be made "a positive learning experience that changes (the offenders') behavior for the rest of their lives?" the whole editorial.

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