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George Zimmerman Acquitted: Can Restorative Justice Apply?

Jul 24, 2013

from the article by Lisa Rea on Restorative Justice International: 

For those who haven’t followed this trial, Trayvon Martin was a 17-year old black teenager shot by George Zimmerman, an armed neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida in 2012. Zimmerman was acquitted.

It’s hard to consider that such a verdict is just given the victim, Trayvon Martin, was unarmed while Zimmerman was the one with the gun.

Regardless of your views on whether the offender was “justified” in his killing Martin, let alone considering the impact of Florida’s “stand your ground” law, there is no peace from this verdict. As many have said, this verdict might be legal but it is not just. The offender killed; the victim died. The offender is released. Trayvon Martin can’t speak from the grave. The family members of the teenager are the victims left behind. Can restorative justice apply here and how? Is it available to them?

In the application of restorative justice in criminal cases, or nonviolent offenses, offenders must take responsibility for their actions. For a victim offender dialogue to occur the offender must not only take responsibility for his actions but choose to make things right–as much as possible.

In a case of murder the offender cannot restore the victim, of course, but he can take steps towards taking responsibility. Often remorse is expressed. Can Zimmerman do that? Would the victim’s family want that contact? We have already heard that other legal action will be taken against Zimmerman given the verdict. That could come in the form of civil litigation and steps could be taken federally to seek to qualify this murder as a racially motivated hate crime.

We do not know if the family would seek to meet Zimmerman someday but it is clear that the Martin’s would have the same questions that other murder victims family members have expressed after violent crime. The Martin’s would want to know how and where and why. Those questions were covered, and very publicly, at trial televised globally but a restorative justice meeting would be far different. The goal of a restorative justice dialogue is much deeper. Real truth is sought. Offenders seek to make things right. Victims ask questions and hear answers, although not always the answers that they would hope to hear. But from the work we do with crime victims around the U.S. and globally those answers are extremely important. The interaction between an offender and the victim’s family in a restorative justice dialogue would not be for media consumption, nor would it be used as evidence in any additional legal action. The goal of such a meeting is really about justice. It allows the victim’s family members as well as the offender to heal on some level and move on. Often for the offender it means transformation. The injured victims do not want this to happen again—to anyone.

As we watch in the days ahead I hope some healing comes through restorative justice for the Martin’s. The traditional justice system seeks a verdict. That verdict came down with a crash. But real relief is not possible at this hour for the victim’s family. I am sure that the Zimmerman verdict has impacted many Americans, especially people of color, making them feel that the justice system in the U.S. is not justice for all but justice for some. Given the inequities of the justice system in America this concerns me greatly. We deserve better. There is much work that lies ahead.

Read the full article.

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