We are Solutions Not Punishment…and for the next three months, we invite you to join with us as we investigate and explore one of the most essential questions we face in our work and in our lives — what does true justice look and feel like?
The larger society we live in tells us “justice” and “punishment” (especially at the hands of the state) are one and the same. We’re supposed to seek prosecutions of bad cops, feel “justice has been served” when someone who has killed is executed. We are told we should measure the value of our lives by the number of years a person who harmed us is sentenced to live in a cage. The larger society defines this punishment and retribution as justice. But our lives – our Black and Brown, our trans and gender non-conforming, our immigrant, our poor lives – tell us something very different. It is undeniable that punishment may feel good to some of us at times. It may give us a sense of bitter satisfaction, alleviate some of our rage, or serve as affirmation that our lives matter to the people in charge. But in this world we live in, can we really entrust justice for our loved ones to the punitive system that perpetrates such violence and injustice in our communities? More over, does the punishment of another do anything to address the real harm and loss we have faced when we are violated by others in the community or by the state itself?
In 2014, SNaP Co. released a call to action in response to an attack on Black, Trans women, Janell Crosby and Tyra Woods.
Take, for example, the case of Janell Crosby and Tyra Woods, two beautiful Black trans women who were brutally assaulted on a MARTA train in South Atlanta in May of 2014. When MARTA police arrived on the scene, they didn’t ask after the women’s safety or health, didn’t document their injuries, didn’t offer to take the women to needed services. Later, after SNaP Co made the incident public and demanded justice for the survivors, the police made a couple arrests and brought charges against the assailants. Janell, herself, told anyone who would listen that she didn’t care about jail time for the men who did this. She wanted them to be educated. To apologize. To do community service at a TLGB organization to undo the ignorance they had been taught about trans people.
But none of those things happened – and the justice system never asked Janell or the community what justice would look like to us.
Alexia Christian, 26, with sons Kamasiyan (age 3) and Fabian (age 2).
Then there’s the ongoing case of Alexia Christian the 24 year-old Black mother of two, who was shot dead by Atlanta Police officers while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car in April of 2015. According to police, Ms. Christian somehow got free from her handcuffs and used a hidden gun to shoot first at the officers who then put 10 bullets into her body, ending her life.
After Women on the Rise and Ms. Christian’s mother publicly confronted Chief Turner demanding that the video and audio tapes of the shooting be released, APD turned the file over to the District Attorney for investigation. We are told this is victory – that we should pressure the DA to conclude the investigation in order to prosecute the officers for Ms. Christian’s murder. But Ms. Christian’s mother has said what she wants – what she needs – is to simply know the truth of what happened. The very DA who we’re supposed to entrust to bring the officers “to justice” has withheld those tapes from the family and the public for 8 months.
Felecia Christian, mother of Alexia Christian, confronting Police Chief Turner with the support of the Solutions Not Punishment Coalition
So Alexia’s mother now struggles to raise her two young grandsons, working multiple jobs and without government assistance or support of any kind from the state who took their mother’s life. No one has asked what the family needs to heal from such a violent and sudden loss. When asked, Alexia’s mother will tell you she wants the officers fired, and policy changes in the department that ensure this kind of shooting will never happen to anyone else. But the system has never asked what justice would mean to her and those 2 beautiful boys.
So if our lived experience makes us unwilling to rely on the same system that harms us to somehow bring us justice, and if we reject this notion that punishment equals justice, what would a different – a true – notion of justice be?
Solutions Not Punishment Coalition thinks about that question in our work and lives every day. But for the next three months Kung Li, investigator and writer, will be on the road, traveling the nation and examining the history and impact of criminalization on communities. In their travels they will dig into this nation’s past, listen to those who have been deeply harmed and those who have done harm, and will share with us weekly, their thoughts from this quest for a deeper understanding of justice. We hope you join us in that conversation.