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Justice? What about understanding?

Nov 20, 2012

by Lynette Parker

Scrolling through RSS feeds I saw a link for, “After driving on sidewalk to pass school bus, woman must wear ‘idiot’ sign.” I admit clicking the link to see what it was about. The first line quotes someone as declaring, “Justice has been served!” before going into how a woman had driven on a sidewalk to get around a parked school bus with children on it. The penalty was to stand near the scene of the incident wearing a sign that says, “Only an idiot would drive on the sidewalk to avoid the school bus.” She will also pay a $250 fine. 

I had to shake my head as I read the story and watched the video. I found the behaviour hard to believe. I wondered if the driver truly understood how lucky she was to pull such a stunt without hurting someone. Of course, I have to ask if there can be justice without understanding. I get the punitive reaction. People could have been hurt. Children could have been hurt in what was an unthinking act. So, there is a part of me that understands the “idiot” sign. But does that really bring justice?

Will standing on a sidewalk for two hours help the woman understand why she is there? Will she have any idea why the driver was upset? While she may not go it again, will the thinking that led her to drive up on the sidewalk instead of stopping be changed? I can’t see that happening, not through punitive actions. 

As I've said in other articles, this is why restorative processes are important. They provide an avenue for responding that not only seeks justice but also brings understanding. In a restorative process, the bus driver could share his/her concerns about the behaviour. What were his thoughts when he saw the car driving up on the sidewalk? What were his fears? Parents from the community could share the same concerns, fears, and worries. 

In such a process, the driver would have an opportunity to tell her own story. What was she thinking? Why did she feel it was okay to drive on the sidewalk? She would also have the opportunity to listen -- in a safe environment -- to the other side of the story. She could hear people talk about their fears of someone stepping out on the sidewalk to be hit. She could see the behaviour from another perspective: the perspective of people affected by the actions instead of a punishment perspective. Providing space for such understanding can have a much more profound impact than any punishment. 

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Anne Clarke
Anne Clarke says:
Nov 25, 2012 11:44 PM

Thank you for your article. In my opinion without understanding, there can be no true justice. Ms. Parker, I would add some further questions to yours. What do we know about that woman's life? Why would she have taken such a risk? What was the context for her decision? <br /> <br />It would seem, the more educated our society becomes, it is the less &quot;humane&quot; we become toward each other.

lparker says:
Nov 26, 2012 09:12 PM

Dear Anne, <br /> <br />Thank you for your comments. Your questions are good ones and point to why restorative processes are useful. The context of the dialogue allows all those affected by behaviour to ask questions and understand the situation. This not mean that behaviour is excused, but everyone is able to build a common understanding. <br /> <br />The common understanding becomes a basis for responding to the behaviour in a way that resolves problems instead of creating new ones.

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