In my roles as a professor at Vanderbilt’s Divinity School and as the director of the University’s Cal Turner Program for Moral Leadership, I often find myself in classrooms, talking about the meaning and nature of justice. We read Plato, Aristotle, Kant, and Rawls together. It can be exhilarating. But I have also taught in Riverbend Maximum Security Prison. I have been to a parole hearing when the family of the murdered victim expressed deep anger and unremitting pain, 25 years on. I have friends who have been victims of violence and who have committed violence against others. Perhaps they have been a victim of violence, or maybe they have been picked up by the police or arrested for a crime. We know that people of color are disproportionally policed, criminalized, and incarcerated.
As a parent, a citizen of the United States, and as a member of the Nashville community, I know that for many people in our country, the question of justice is not simply a matter of intellectual exercising; it is personal.
In one way or another, members of our communities have become part of the “justice system” that is long on system and short on justice. The counselor’s office, the back of a police car, the courthouse, the lawyer’s office, the prison, and the Parole office are the primary sites for conversations about justice for too many Americans. For them, justice is no mere concept for classroom consideration. The need for a healing justice is real, and the form justice takes in their lives matters.
Unfortunately, the system of justice becomes too often another vehicle of violence. It tears at the fabric of our common life. It damages bodies. It is de-humanizing and divisive, disrupting families and communities. It undermines our national life and makes a sham of our highest ideals of justice for all. Without a truer justice, we cannot flourish, individually or communally. Justice matters.
Because justice matters so profoundly, the CTP is hosting a conversation about the means and purposes of Justice in the City. We will take up the questions, “How are we to respond to violence? How can justice be practiced in our lives and in our communities?” True justice seeks not simply to make violators pay for their actions; it seeks to mitigate, to heal, to repair, and, to the degree possible, restore—not simply order—but restore relationships, communities, and bodies. On September 30, through October 1, the CTP will host a summit focused on Restorative Justice. At this meeting, we will learn from experiments in restorative justice, an approach that focuses on harm and healing rather than violation and punishment, in order to make a truer justice possible. We believe that in this nation and in this city, when it comes to justice, we can do better. Please join us in this work.
by Graham Reside
Executive Director, Cal Turner Program in Moral Leadership for the Professions
Assistant Professor, Vanderbilt University Divinity School