When we talk about social justice work, a lot of our time is spent focusing on the injustices that face our world today. The work feels urgent and never-ending, which can easily turn over into feelings of burnout and overwhelm. For many organizers, the work centers on what we choose to resist rather than building a vision for the future. We don’t get the opportunity to answer the important question: what comes next?
Healing Justice speaks the truth about the criminalization of young people of color, yet it also offers ideas for a future where young people are respected and have opportunities to heal.
A striking part of the film are the stories of vulnerability. During healing circles, attendees are invited to participate in ritual; artists create work that express their experiences of trauma and care; and community members find new ways to engage one another with transformative justice processes.
One of the most interesting examples in the film is the story of a victim whose car was stolen by a young person. You may have seen the clip already; it is one of the most popular stories fromt the film! In it, Sujatha Baliga, the Director of the Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice, shares the story of a conference between that young person, the victim, and the victim’s friend:
“The victim was extremely unhappy that the case had been diverted… On the day of the conference, it was very powerful. Her friend leans in and he says ‘I know you because I used to be you,’ and he proceeds to tell the most powerful story about he himself got caught up in stealing cars and how it derailed his life and how he got his life back on track. And [it was] as if the rest of the room disappeared and [they] engaged in a dialogue about how does one turn one’s life around.”
The victim then asks for the young person to paint “a Tinkerbell as tall as [her]” for her to forgive all the debt he owed. In this anecdote, we catch a glimpse of an alternative to policing and incarceration as punishment for a crime. For the conference to happen, it requires immense vulnerability. The victim had to be willing to hold their hurt feelings while her friend shared that story, and together the young person and victim came to an agreement that met both of their needs. As Baliga says, “if that’s what the victim wanted and that’s what keeps him out of trouble for the rest of his life, then we should be really happy about Tinkerbell.”
When we think about resistance, we must engage our creativity.
It is much easier to think about what we are against than what we are for. In this example from Healing Justice, dialogue and vulnerability are the tools used to think creatively about how to settle a problem. Where our existing legal system would introduce harsh punishment, we must introduce something completely different: care and love.
We invite you to think more about these questions as you engage more with the film and transformative justice practices:
- What do you stand for?
- What happens when we are vulnerable with one another?
- What alternatives to the criminal legal system are there? What comes next once we have moved away from punitive models?
To see a film clip of the Tinkerbell story, click here.