As stated in our mission statement and vision, our collective is dedicated to creating and promoting restorative justice in our communities. Our collective has researched various accountability processes in communities of color. We have found several common ideas on how to begin an ongoing process of healing and transformation for all parties involved. Although we have yet to implement an accountability process, we aim to develop a protocol for speaking out and seeking support that does not involve: 1) using oppressive language, 2) demand “side taking,” 3) does not involve blaming the victim, 4) nor allow the perpetrator to be enabled or become the victim.
An important issue to acknowledge is that men of color and our communities of our color are the victims of over 500 years of colonial violence but it is still NOT an excuse to perpetuate it or use it as a crutch. It is important to remain critical of the victim/perpetrator dichotomy and to view healing as a collective process of decolonization that moves beyond these roles. The survivor does not have to be at the forefront of holding the perpetrator/aggressor accountable, but rather, the survivor’s community should be able to do so via the accountability process. We also acknowledge that sometimes it is truly unsafe for a survivor to out themselves as a victim or to confront a perpetrator. In some specific cases where justice is sought with an individual perpetrator, there should be a process in place that allows for learning from the experience that does not further violate, isolate, or harm the survivor and honors their stories, as well as an opportunity for the perpetrator to respond to allegations that protects the survivor from retaliation or further harm.
In addressing these issues we have found it helpful to do the following:
1. Address the situation directly with the people involved.
2. Decide to sit with your community and create a space (spiritual and otherwise) where all parties involved feel safe. This may involve the creation of three safe spaces: one for each side affected and one larger space for the community to come together and share.
3. Several attempts and manners to resolve this issue in a healthy way may be needed.
4. At least four rounds of dialogue are suggested, beginning with a recount of what happened and people’s personal feelings about it. It is important to note that participants should prepare themselves knowing that this is a difficult process. The dialogue should be guided by a respected elder as well as a professional mediator/counselor/facilitiator that are agreed upon by the majority involved. These elements are key in the process and eventual outcome of the dialogue.
5. Although the process and healing is ongoing, “summary” meetings can bring closure to a community process simply because of the listening involved. Being heard and hearing can allow for healing, purging and letting go of emotions, ill feelings, and perspectives in order for everyone to move forward and bring forth a solution or collective statement.
6. Creation of Workshops, Townhalls, Talking Circles about this subject matter within various communities (women’s, men’s, multi-gendered, various ages, areas, etc.). This is key in order to ensure the experiences and trauma are not to be repeated.
Difficulties that have risen from past attempts to do community accountability work include:
1. Refusal by the perpetrator to acknowledge that their behavior was problematic, harmful, unjust, or violent.
2. Delegitimizing, silencing, blaming, isolating, retaliating, attacking, marginalizing, or refusing to believe survivors and/or witnesses.
3. Manipulation of the process by the perpetrator to stack the process in favor of themselves, remove people who support or are sympathetic to the survivor from the process, use the process itself to continue violence, use the process to maintain or assert power over others, claim victimhood in order to further marginalize/harm the survivor, or to demand forgiveness/restoration of their reputation without actual accountability or change.
4. Perpetrators often avoid responsibility by moving to another scene or location, often this means that they will continue to harm new people who are unaware of their past.
5. The people close to a perpetrator may attack or seek retaliation against the survivor and/or those involved in the community accountability process as well as those simply supporting or maintaining connection to the survivor.
6. Perpetrators often will use threats of lawsuits, police, and using the power of the police state / judicial system against the survivor and their communities of support.
7. Situations may also arise when two or more people have been mutually violent/abusive/unjust to one another and it is difficult to divide the situation into clear survivor/perpetrator roles or to establish how things started or who in fact holds more power in the situation.
We acknowledge that this is a very hard process that is difficult for all involved. However, it is work that needs to be done within ourselves and within our community. This outline is our first attempt to identify our community’s need for restorative justice in our interpersonal relationships. It is a work in progress that we hope will initiate dialogue with other circles and individuals who wish to speak and work on this matter. It is also a call out to these circles to connect, heal, and break silences.
*Inspired by various organizations and documents including “The Revolution Starts at Home” by INCITE, QUARREL, Oakland Sister Circle.