The keynote speaker called this restorative justice. If one can sum it up in a quick blurb, this is the act of "transforming the traditional relationship between communities and their governments in responding to crime." (1)
We all know what's going on in Baltimore. Critics are calling the protests extreme, unreasonable, counterproductive, and ineffectual - though they are placing emphasis and focus on looters rather than the scores of peaceful protesters. They say people are "looking for an excuse" to take it to the streets. Sadly, these critics are missing a grand point. Many protest participants haven't been sitting around and then one day, perked up at a juicy news story of a black kid unjustly killed in a suspicious incident involving police officers. No, there has been a lot of heart and tireless work being done to correct a failing system, and protests are just a snapshot of frustration erupting.
In Buffalo, NY - known as one of the most segregated cities in the US, mind you - there are incredible grassroots efforts in motion to address the many systemic problems in our city. But these positives don't make mainstream news. People would rather watch something they can judge.
For one, we have Peacekeepers. These are extraordinary community volunteers who go into people's homes to settle disputes and tense situations before they turn violent. This has proven more effective than involving police and criminal charges in many cases.
We have Prisoners Are People Too, The Center for Employment Opportunities, Reentry Friends, the M.A.N. Program, Peaceprints, and more...where citizens from all walks of life, from widely varying backgrounds, work together to promote restorative justice, opportunities, a new age of equality. Offering complete strangers a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear.
There are advocates going door to door encouraging and assisting minorities with registering to vote. There are politicians who will speak one on one to neighborhood activists who want to improve their communities. When I was working with the M.A.N. Program (a grassroots program created by ex-prisoners), they were invited right into a councilman's office to discuss the vision of their program and how the city could help.
So yes, there is a lot of effort in this fight against the system. Meanwhile, major news outlets would rather gravitate toward sensationalism instead of presenting a whole, multi-perspective truth. They would prefer people turn on each other, dig further into their prejudicial roots, glue their eyes to a TV where a privileged few belch their opinions in each other's faces.
I know that at the very least - since riots apparently gain more media coverage than petitions and daily community action - that the peaceful efforts are not being missed in discussion and more people are learning about the problem. There are those who still linger in their judgments and closed-minded theories, but many are coming into new realizations - maybe about the bubble they live in, or the privilege of never having to think of these things before, or the guilt of turning away from it all. If this is happening, if people of any generation are starting to listen to and examine more than one side instead of opining, then we are moving toward restorative justice.