From Hate to Hope: A Call for Restorative Justice
A significant number of students in my college community identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. So, when a young, black, gay man was brutally assaulted just two miles from campus, many of the students were deeply impacted. The feelings of fear, anger, and sadness hung heavily over my students, and there was a clear sense of not knowing how to respond.
Below is a letter that I wrote to share with SafeSpace and Afrekete (the LGBT student groups on campus) in an effort to help us all think through how we might respond.
February 8, 2012
My dear beloved community,
This past Saturday, three of my young brothers thought that it was a good idea to beat another brother. They also decided to videotape the beating so that others could laugh(?) with them. This video displaying graphic images of a young man being kicked and punched while anti-gay slurs were being yelled has been viewed and reviewed by hundreds of thousands of people in the last 48 hours.
In the face of such a brazen display of bigotry and violence, it is nearly impossible for members of the LGBTQ community to resist succumbing to the fear that they too may become the target of another person’s hate. Indeed, for many in the LGBTQ community, watching the video of Brandon White’s attack triggered memories of their own past encounters with hate-filled violence. Thus, members of the community are left wrestling once more with real feelings of victimization, fear, sadness, and anger that extend well beyond the circumstances of this single act.
It is the fear of further victimization that drives an impulse to respond to the perpetrators with hatred and disdain. For example, during the emergency Black LGBTQ Community Action Meeting, the young men who attacked Brandon were constantly called, “thugs,” “gang-bangers” and “mother-f****ers.” An “us” verses “them” motif was quickly established, and very few efforts were made to recognize the humanity within the other young men. As questions were asked about Brandon’s state of mind, people were hesitant to ask about the psychological well-being of his attackers.
While the impulse to respond to hatred with more hatred is natural, it is imperative that the LGBTQ community seeks to transform all acts of hatred into opportunities for hope. If more energy is to be directed towards establishing a Hate Crimes Law in Georgia, that effort must be coupled with an educational component. If more money is to be directed towards teaching young lesbians and gays self-defense, that funding must be accompanied by teachings in the principles of non-violence.
As we in the LGBTQ community grapple to respond to this brutal act of violence, Audre Lorde reminds us that, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Using language that dehumanizes the persons involved with the attack only further strengthens the systems of oppression that we must strive to dismantle. Therefore let us take a queer response by choosing reconciliation over retaliation and restorative justice over merciless revenge.