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Moving beyond the crime in hate crimes: Community and restorative justice considered

Violence in all its forms is a matter of concern. However, violence that also corrupts our ability to function and live together as a society, and denies our humanity and value as human beings is a cause for even greater concern. Hate crime is one example, and the international debate on how to address the attitudes that foster it is now more timely than ever.

The British Parliamentary Home Affairs Select Committee recently investigated what the law, the Crown Prosecution Service and the criminal justice system can do better to address hate crime. I claim that hate incidents and their underlying causes are complex societal phenomena that cannot be addressed through the law alone.

In my open letter to the chair of the Committee Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, I said:

As I write this submission and following the EU referendum, Britain is divided. Hate crime reports to the UK police forces increased by 42% in the week before and after the vote. The decision to leave the EU seems to have given to some groups “the license to behave in a racist or other discriminatory way,” the chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland said. A divided country is a weak country whether this relates to its finances, housing market, currency, foreign and social policies. Uncertainty creates fear and fear creates tensions. At the same time, our cities, society and businesses have been hit by unprecedented waves of hate incidents. Ignorance and misinformation once again have led selected groups to act shamefully, when the British are known to the world for their tolerance, deep commitment to human rights and their passion for education and knowledge. As a Greek Londoner, I fear for what is yet to come for my family, my international staff team, my volunteers and students … myself. Therefore, your Inquiry could not be more timely.

It is is naïve to believe that the law alone can bring social justice and address the underlying factors that lead to hate incidents. Not long ago, I wrote about the power that racialises us all. I have also written about the forces of power and control that could lead to the demise of democracy in Europe and the US.

History has shown that it is through the result of millions of small actions that we change status quo. These actions are mostly undertaken by people not in government or with power. The role of activists and civil society has long been underestimated, and it is now becoming clearer that without the NGOs, movements and campaigns that comprise it, governments and other vessels of power would not be held accountable. It is also important how we accept and conceptualise “social justice” and “justice”, and how much room we allow those in power to manoeuvre.

Critical race theory teaches us that the structured means of delivering justice through the law are born with the intention of maintaining racial hierarchy. It also “offers an opportunity to imagine processes that challenge these systems of domination” (Zuberi, 2011). Some have also argued that the differences between black and white people are so stark that attempts to reconcile differences through dialogue are bound to be hindered (Kochman, 1981; Davidheiser, 2008).

Research that I have undertaken suggests that there are complementary, community-based approaches to hate incidents that must be considered. One of these alternatives is restorative justice. This is possibly an emergent different sort of power which Foucault (2008) would refer to as ‘biopower’. This biopower “targets living subjects, deploying pastoral, governmental and normalising power techniques that are different from, but operate in complex relations with sovereign model of criminal justice (2011: 25). Without abolishing what we have, restorative justice and other forms of bottom-up justice can act as “counter-public” (Woolford and Ratner, 2008) fostering democratic ways for people to confront the subtle co-optations of a governmentalized, white state and its articulated visions of justice.

It is known that while most hate crimes involve relatively minor offences (e.g., graffiti, egg throwing, name-calling, intimidation and vandalism), their impact can be much greater and long lasting depending on how the victim and the community perceives them. These nuances are not always captured by legal definitions of hate crimes, which tend to be dominant in criminal justice policy and practice (Chakraborti, 2010).

Nevertheless, this did not hinder practitioners within the criminal justice system (e.g. probation officers) and in the community from piloting conferences, mediation and other restorative justice programmes most of the times without any government support (e.g., see Select Committee, 2006; Gavrielides, 2007; Gavrielides, 2010; Chakraborti, 2010).

In short, to win the battle against hate crime and its consequences, whether at the local, national or international level, there must be a breakdown of the stereotypes, attitudes and worldviews that foster it in the first place. This battle is being fought on a daily basis not only by criminal justice agencies, but also within schools, places of worship, families, person-to-person relationships and community based organisations. Restorative justice seems to offer one form of dialogue that may help break down the fears, stereotypes and causes of hate crime. Our evidence suggests that the power sharing of the restorative justice dialogue, when done properly and safely, can restore balance in the distorted power dynamics that results from hate events.

We all share responsibility in making our societies more tolerant and equal. Those with access to channels of mass communication, such as politicians, journalists and educationalists, bear an extra burden for not only keeping communities safe but also for leading by example. The recent events in the US and UK as well as the way the leadership has responded are rather disappointing. A restorative justice dialogue between leading political figures (such as Mr. Trump and Ms. May) and communities could act as a starting point in restoring trust. The model of Truth and Reconciliation Committees has been tried and tested many times successfully.

I am currently looking for restorative justice case studies that have address hate crimes and incidents of power. These will be published as part of my book "Race, Power and Restorative Justice". See Call here

My full response and evidence to the UK Parliamentary Inquiry can be found here

Further Resources

Gavrielides, T. (Forthcoming in 2018). Race, Power & Restorative Justice: The dialogue we Never Had. Abingdon: Routledge. ISBN 978-1-4724-8835-0.

Gavrielides, T. and Blake, S. (2013). Race in Probation: Improving outcomes for black and minority ethnic users of probation services, London: IARS Publications. ISBN: 978-190764119-0.

Gavrielides, T. (2012). “Contextualising Restorative Justice for Hate Crime”. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. doi: 10.1177/0886260512447575.

Gavrielides, T. (2010) “Restoring relationships: hate crime and restorative justice” in European best practices of restorative justice in the criminal procedures: Budapest conference 2009, European Union: Hungary.

Gavrielides T. (2014) “Bringing Race Relations into the Restorative Justice Debate” Vol. 45: No. 3 Journal of Black Studies, pp. 216-246.

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