Restorative Responses to Racism: a letter from John W. Baillie International Institute of Restorative Practice

Dear IIRP Community,
Someone once asked me how I maintain my neutrality when facilitating restorative conferences for serious offenses. I replied that I’m not neutral. It is neither moral nor possible to be neutral in the face of such harm and trauma.
I cannot imagine watching the murder of George Floyd and feeling anything but pain, anger, and sadness.
Regarding racism in the United States, the damage it does to our communities, and the lives it destroys, whether through police violence, the school-to-prison pipeline, or mass incarceration – neutrality is not possible nor helpful. We are all involved. The question is the extent to which we are willing to own our role in the way things are and labor in solidarity to change it.
Restorative responses to the current moment in history need not, and cannot, be neutral. Like a restorative conference, the process begins with an admission of harm and wrongdoing. As a culture, it should be obvious to all that we simply aren’t there yet. Honestly, I do not see an easy to path to get there either. There are no easy solutions.
What I do know, is that silence won’t get us there. I learned that from all of you and this great work we’ve been engaged in over the past several decades. However, breaking silence requires risk and sacrifice.
For those accustomed to doing the talking in society, much of that sacrifice can start with the simple act of listening. Only then, like in the microcosm of a restorative conference, can you truly know who is in pain and why, what your community needs, and what is required of each of us to begin the long arc of healing from harm that is both current and historic.
We are doing this work internally at the IIRP as well – sometimes well, often imperfectly, but always with the goal of practicing what we teach and seeking to honor human dignity in all that we do.
Also, very soon the IIRP will be offering public “Listening Circles” on the trauma of racism and racial violence. This will be an opportunity to be with others who, like you, seek to better understand how racism and racial violence impacts our lives, our part in maintaining it, and the possibilities to change it.
To the people of color and their allies who are already engaged in this work, the IIRP stands with you.
In Solidarity, John W. Baillie