Community Accountability: Ending Dependence on The State: Community Responses to Transforming and Responding to Violence
Last weekend, I traveled to New York to visit with a friend and to also attend a 3 day training facilitated by Just Practice, a training series for activists, movement builders, community members, and non-profit workers who want to deepen their harm reduction skills and transformative justice practices. While much of what I learned at the training felt familiar, it certainly was far more well articulated, coherent, and integrated that the gut-common-sense strategies I have pieced together and practiced. Facilitators, Shirah Hasan and Miriame Kaba, are long time activists and organizers who have worked with young people in Chicago and New York. They have written Fumbling Towards Repair: A Workbook for Community Accountability Facilitators, a collection of resources from which our training was based.
I learned a lot at the training and will be processing a good bit of the information; looking for ways that it might apply to my work. I cannot sum up the training in one blogpost, so for now I will make an attempt to share some definitions and framework for Transformative Justice and give some examples of Transformative Justice Practices and Processes, including the Community Accountability Process.
Let’s start with Abolishing the Prison Industrial Complex and Culture
In Fumbling Towards Repair, Hasan and Kaba write, “Prison Industrial Complex (PIC) abolition is a political vision with the goal of eliminating imprisonment, policing, and surveillance, and creating lasting alternatives to punishment and imprisonment. Abolition isn’t just about getting rid of buildings full of cages. It’s also about undoing the society we live in, because the PIC both feeds on and maintains oppression and inequalities through punishment, violence, and controls millions of people.” Because we have been so influenced by the prison system and its values, the work of abolition is broad. Abolitionists build models and practical strategies to move us out of a system of punishment.
Transformative Justice is not an alternative, it is a completely different way
Transformative Justice is a framework that provides a way for communities to respond to violence without causing more harm and violence. It is a set of values, practices, and processes that actively work to cultivate healing, reduce, and prevent violence. Philly Stands Up, an organization that practices Transformative Justice to confront sexual assault by practicing Community Accountability processes, defines Transformative Justice as “a way of practicing justice which acknowledges individual experiences and identitites and works to actively resist the state’s criminal injustice system. TJ recognizes that oppression is at the root of all forms of harm, abuse, and assault. As a practice it therefore aims to address and confront those oppressions on all levels and treats this concept as an integral part of accountability and healing.” (pg 21 in Fumbling Towards Repair) Transformative Justice should not be seen as the reaction to the criminal justice system. It is a whole nother way.
Transformative Justice Takes Shape by Praxis- theory + action
Some of the values of Transformative Justice are:
Natural Consequence > Punishment
People are not disposable
The state can and does cause harm. Communities work together to create solutions to problems without involving the state.
Community Accountability Processes are intentional and consensual
Center the survivors of harm
Humble Rigorous Action is key
Transform social conditions that perpetuate violence
Community action, healing, and accountability
Address the roots of violence
Some examples of Transformative Justice Practices are:
When basic needs are met and information is available and accessible for all
Examples: Community meals, community lodging, cooperative education
Harm Reduction and Interventions
When harm is happening, intervene creatively and quickly; also reduce the regularity or intensity
Examples: Safety Planning, Circles, Bad Date Lists
Repairing harm among all community members
Examples: making amends through payment, promises, activated apologies
Completely transforming individual and collective power relationships.
See more information- Critical Resistance Harm Free Zones
The Community Accountability Process
The Community Accountability Process is a complex agreement process that brings survivors and those who harmed together to start their healing. It is a set of practices that are developed by a group of connected people to respond to, heal from, and transform harm without relying on the state systems. Community Accountability Processes MUST be held separate from the state. CA Processes are voluntary and consensual. Because the CA process is, by definition, a process within community, it is subject to potential failure, change, pivots, adaptation, and collaboration.
In my next blog, I’ll share and reflect more on my experience, what I learned and how I imagine it might take shape in my work.