I am presently en route to Belfast, stuck in a Starbucks (the only place with wireless) while I await my connecting flight. I’m both nervous and excited about the trip that is about to begin. There’s a history to the nervous part, but those of you who are just joining me now won’t get the privilege of understanding why! Ha!
I am about to begin my research interviews for my master’s thesis on an organization called Community Restorative Justice which has its headquarters in Andersonstown, West Belfast. What does CRJ have to do with environmental justice? Only everything, my friends. You might have to wait to read my thesis to really understand. I won’t break down my argument here, because I didn’t sleep last night and I imagine I will be explaining it to tons of people in the coming weeks.
Apparently CRJ’s website is under construction. CRJ was formed in 1996 by a group of intellectuals and community activists from mostly Nationalist areas in an effort to come up with an alternative to the systems of punishment violence that evolved in Republican and Loyalist areas during the most recent phase of the conflict which many quite inappropriately call “the Troubles.” (This phrase is considered offensive to many; recall another favorite expression of the British colonial empire, “the natives are getting restless.” The comparison should be clear.) CRJ was formed to replace those systems of punishment beatings/shootings/forced exiles with a non-violent system–namely, “restorative justice.”
As defined in CRJ’s Blue Book, “Designing a System of Restorative Community Justice in Northern Ireland”:
Restorative Justice is an approach to dealing with the harms created by crime which views such problems as a breakdown in relationships and seeks to repair those relationships. It views criminal conflict as an injury to personal relationships and the property of those involved (Christie 1977). It seeks to replace the traditional focus of “retributive justice” on the punishment of the offender, what Marshall (1992:26) has described as “…an outdated philosophy of naked revenge, with an approach which seeks to ‘heal’ the injuries caused by crime to all the parties involved.” Restorative Justice thus views crime not simply as the violation of rules, but rather a serious form of interpersonal conflict which involved concrete harms to real people (Zehr 1990). The “real people” involved in any criminal act are normally:
• the victim of the crime;
• the offender; and
• the community in which victim and offender live.
Any system based upon the principles of restorative justice must therefore include mechanisms which involve these three key players.
Sounds pretty good, right? I think so. CRJ, however, is a pretty controversial organization depending on who you talk to. There are two fundamental problems that a lot of people have with them: a) they do not work with the RUC/PSNI and b) they employ Republican ex-prisoners. That CRJ should do either of these should not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the history of the area–nor should it come as a surprise that they’ve been attacked by the British and unionist press and the nationalist (read: apologist in this context) SDLP. Some would also have us believe that CRJ is a new name for the IRA.
I’ll be posting more on CRJ in the near future, and will try to include links to recent articles about them. Their grant money is about to run out, and the British government has put a bunch of requirements on them–namely, that they must work directly with the PSNI–in order to get government funding. CRJ’s director, Jim Auld, has of course called these funding requirements “unworkable.”
My battery is about to run out. Wireless access, but no outlets.