Guns & Gangs: A bold, restorative response

20 Apr 2018

Over the last 2 weeks, much has been said in the media about serious youth violence and the rising numbers of gun and knife crime (especially in London). As an RJ4All Associate and a young person myself, I was pleased to be given the opportunity to write about my thoughts on what is being said about us and indeed explore the option of restorative justice.

 

Restorative justice has dominantly been employed to deal with juvenile offenders that commit petty crimes and is yet to be seen as essential in addressing serious crimes. It is true that 2018 has witnessed more than 50 murders in London and an average of 1.4 school shootings per week in the United States, the latter notably highlighted by the Florida school shooting that spared more than 17 lives.[1]

 

 

 

Solutions distant from our youth realities

 

I do not feel that the discussion of this year’s youth gun and knife epidemic offer novel solutions– with some going to the extent of minimising and simplifying the issue and linking youth violence to ‘increased access to social media and video games’. President Donald Trump stated,

 

“[We] have to look the internet because a lot of bad things are happening to young kids and young minds and their minds are being formed. And we have to something about what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it, and also video games. I’m hearing more and more people say the level of violence on video games is really shaping young people’s thoughts. Then you go a further step and that’s the movies. You see these movies, they’re so violent and yet a kid is able to see the movie if sex isn’t involved but killing is involved. And maybe they have to put a rating system for that. And, you know, you get into a whole, very complicated big deal. The fact is you’re having movies come out that are so violent with the killing and everything else that maybe that’s another thing we have to discuss.”[2]

 

It follows that Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Cressida Dick on Police Resources also made direct casual links between social media and violence: “There’s definitely something about the impact of social media in terms of people being able to go from slightly angry with each other to ‘fight’ very quickly.”[3] She dismissed the latest youth violence in London, with statistics exceeding crime statistics in New York, as a ‘crisis’ but alternatively sees it as a ‘spike’ in crime related (in some instances) to street drug dealing.[4] MP Sarah Jones recently spoke about extending criminal behaviour orders to allow courts to enforce bans on youth offenders from using social media.[5]

 

It would not be necessary to entirely dismiss the possible relationship between social media, video games, and aggression, nor is it correct to dismiss other contributory factors like unaddressed mental illnesses, risk factors like drug use, and weak gun control laws as causes of youth crime. Social media is an integral part of our society and ‘purifying’ the ‘developing minds of youth’ seems fanciful as a long-term criminal justice solution. It is imperative to take a step back and broaden the causes of youth violence and examine the various factors that contribute to these crimes, rather than deflect responsibility and narrow the issue of gun violence to recycled speeches on the ‘negative impact of violence in movies and social media on teenagers.’

 

New lenses

 

A wider view of crime and punishment, which is in line with some restorative justice theories, is that crime may stem from failure of individuals to see themselves as having a political stake of their community, and the lack of public confidence in their rights being protected.[6] This would welcome a discussion on inequalities within the community, which may stem from many factors, and how such contributes to individuals engaging in crime from a young age. Restorative justice theories advocate for the involvement of different parts of the community (including the victim, offender, community, and state) within the criminal justice process.[7]

 

Promoting the use of restorative justice principles would also translate to listening closely to discussions by recent victims of serious youth crimes.  Florida victim survivor Emma Gonzalez stated, “if all our government and our President could do is send ‘thoughts and prayers,’ then it is time for victims to be the change we need to see.”[8] Moreover, Edna Chavez, who lost her 16-year-old brother to gun crime emphasised in a #Marchforourlives movement event the need to tackle the root causes of the issues faced and come to an understanding on how to resolve them.[9] Failure to enforce measures within the criminal justice process to formally address these concerns and enforce public recommendations for legislative changes reflects dismissal of the voices of victims of these actual offences, and could be counterproductive to resolving the issues in the long term; it reflects failure of the political community to protect the legal rights of its members and mediate the conflicts between them.[10] Restorative justice theories positively contribute to a wider understanding of the complex question of why juveniles commit serious crimes and how some juvenile offences could be addressed, keeping in mind the long-term goal of reducing the levels of crime. This perspective distinctively includes restorative justice as part of the criminal justice system and does not necessarily see it as an informal alternative.

 

Taking a step back to agree on the theoretical foundations of our criminal justice systems, including an acknowledgment of the need for wider view of the causes of crime and our sentencing frameworks to address different types of crime and offenders, is pivotal.

 

Punishments and responses to crime that are unjustified and do not necessarily respond to specific and identified causes of crime may work in the short term but not necessarily the long term. Discounting the voices of victims, the community, and young offenders, and seeing the latter as an issue rather than as part of a means to a long-term solution is detrimental.  

 

The traditional legal view of crime as ‘a violation against the state’ is long outdated; crime is a conflict between members of the community that results in injuries to various stakeholders including the victims, offenders, and members of the wider community, and only secondarily a crime against the state. Including the stakeholders as part of the criminal justice process is a positive step in educating ourselves on the causes of youth gun and knife crimes and how legislation could address these crimes in a much-needed multi-dimensional manner. Further research and more thought should be given to how restorative justice theories have been so far employed and could be further translated and integrated in practice to address serious crimes.

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  • Reem Radhi is an Associate with the RJ4All Institute

  • To apply to becoming an RJ4All Associate follow this link

 

References

 

[1] Casciani, D. (2018, April 4). Reality Check: Has London’s Murder Rate Overtaken New York’s? Retrieved from  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-43628494; Ahmed, S. and Walker, C. (2018, March 24) There has been, on average, 1 school shooting every week this year. Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/school-shootings-2018-list-trnd/index.html .

 

[2] Sommerlad, J. (2018, February 26). Donald Trump Says He will ‘Do Something’ To Stop Danger of Violent Video Games.’ Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/gadgets-and-tech/news/donald-trump-video-games-violence-florida-school-shooting-gun-control-nra-gamers-a8228611.html.

 

[3] The Guardian (2018, March 31) Met Chief Says Social Media Is Behind Soaring Rate of Knife Crime. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/31/met-commissioner-says-social-media-is-behind-soaring-rate-of-knife.

 

[4] BBC News (2018, April 2) London Murder Rate Overtakes New York’s. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-43610936; The Guardian (2018, March 31) Met Chief Says Social Media Is Behind Soaring Rate of Knife Crime. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/31/met-commissioner-says-social-media-is-behind-soaring-rate-of-knife. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OPkOYUIDo4

 

[5] Townsend, M. (2018, April 7) Violent Youths ‘should face social media ban’. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/07/violent-youths-crime-wave-uk-social-media-ban.

 

[6] Causes of crime according to a theory of punishment advanced by Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. Oxford: Routledge.

 

[7] Gavrielides, T. (2011). Restorative Practices: From the Early Societies to the 1970s.’ Internet Journal of Criminology ISSN 2045-6743 (Online) 2.

 

[8] CNN Staff (2018, February 18). Florida student Emma Gonzalez to lawmakers and gun advocates: ‘We call BS’ Retrieved from https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/17/us/florida-student-emma-gonzalez-speech/index.html.

 

[9] Community Coalition (2018, March 28). Edna Chavez – March For Our Lives [Video File]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BinNvKznltA.

 

[10] Causes of crime according to a theory of punishment advanced by Brooks, T. (2012). Punishment. Oxford: Routledge.

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