“A learning environment”: restorative justice used in the Lake Monroe case in 2020

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All charges have been dismissed in the case of a 2020 Lake Monroe racist incident involving Vauhxx Booker, Sean Purdy and Jerry Cox, according to a case released on May 18. Special Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp dropped the charges after everyone agreed to resolve the case using restorative justice.

Restorative justice is a process of acknowledging and repairing the harm done by creating dialogue and taking steps toward resolution, the Center for Community Justice wrote in the filing. This is the first time a criminal case has used restorative justice in Indiana.

Leerkamp told the Indiana Daily Student that attorneys for Purdy and Cox had suggested restorative justice as a way to resolve the case. Neither Purdy, Cox nor Booker could be reached by IDS for comment.

Restorative justice focuses on accountability and healing rather than punishment, according to the filing. For the process to be successful, participants must take responsibility for the harm caused and create a plan to make things right. Typically, those involved participate in face-to-face conferences led by a neutral facilitator to discuss the issue.

A group meeting did not take place in Booker’s case, Leerkamp said, because one person resisted the idea. She did not share who resisted, but said Purdy and Cox said they learned and took responsibility.

Leerkamp said prison sentences and other traditional forms of punishment aren’t always conducive to real learning, and jury trials can be more destructive than constructive. She said Booker, Purdy and Cox were looking for a solution other than going to court.

“A lot of it is learning how to communicate without getting angry, without having to be macho about something,” she said. “It’s not a win or lose environment. It’s more of a learning environment.”

Restorative justice has resurrected in popularity as an alternative to prosecution and incarceration. Although this is the first time that restorative justice has been used for a criminal case in Indiana, it has been used as a form of mediation before in schools and juvenile cases Across the country.

To complete the restorative justice process, each person had to write a summary of their experience, which was included in the case file.

Sean Purdy wrote that while he previously viewed the Confederate flag – which was printed on a hat he was wearing at the time of the confrontation – as a symbol of the American South, he now understands the flag to be a racist symbol .

Cox wrote in his summary that although he initially had doubts about restorative justice, it helped him better understand himself and others. He said he lashed out at Booker out of anger, but has since learned to be more aware of his words and actions.

Booker wrote that shame and punishment are not the most effective tools for changing behavior and that restorative justice helps address wrongdoing in a corrective way. He said restorative justice is about preserving the dignity and sanctity of life.

Cymone Fuller, Director of Restorative Justice Project at Impact Justice, said restorative justice is about telling the truth about what happened. Restorative justice, she said, gives the injured person more agency.

“For an injured person, it’s up to them to dictate what happened to them and what they need as a result of that,” Fuller said. “And that doesn’t engage the third party interests of the prosecutor or the state that sometimes run counter to what a survivor wants, what they need.”

People who have been injured in a situation often have questions about why they were targeted, she said, that are not easily answered in the criminal justice system. Meanwhile, restorative justice provides a safe space to ask and answer questions.

Fuller said society often confuses punishment with responsibility. While punishment comes from feelings of shame and blame, she says, responsibility is an opportunity to identify where an action is misaligned with someone’s true values.

“I think accountability is actually an invitation to take ownership of something you’ve done and do it right,” Fuller said. “There’s no shame in having the opportunity to reaffirm who you are or who you want to be.”

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