I've been reading much analysis of the events on Wednesday. I haven't read much that startled me out of complacency, that made me want to think further and more deeply, but this article on the NPR site did. Sociologist Alex Vitale says we shouldn't be focused on the police angle but on the larger issue of justice in society.
But he's not talking about justice the way most of us have been talking about justice. Most of us want people punished, want people put in jail, want officers fired. Vitale says, "Well, look, Americans are deeply committed to their retributive impulses. The United States has become a gigantic revenge factory. So obviously, people are falling back on these impulses — imagining justice as a question of punishment. Imagining that accountability is going to be measured in years of incarceration."
But then he pivots--he doesn't leave us drowning in our retributive impulses. He sees that we have a 2 year window to deepen the conversation. He says that in the past, we've been content to turn a variety of problems over to the police: homelessness, drug abuse, mental illness. The police aren't equipped to handle those issues, and as a result, we see the fractured and broken society that we have today.
He also notes that the people in charge along with the people who benefit--white people, to be specific--prize order over justice. If we commit to justice, we have to tolerate some disorder, some messiness.
I see two issues here, the one of what to do about this specific group of people who rampaged through the U.S. Capitol building and the issue of how to craft workable public policy that works for more of us. In terms of punishing Wednesday's rampagers, I have a vision of education, not prison. Let them read the books that were on the smashed bookshelves. Give them a choice of whether or not they'd like to serve their sentence in prison or in the U.S. Congress, being useful to Senators and Congress people and the Capitol police. Make them write research essays about the artifacts that they trashed.
The question of public policy is even thornier.
We've had decades of public policy crafted by wealthy white men, mostly for the comfort and benefit of wealthy white men. What would happen if we started to listen to other groups? Not just black, brown, and indigenous groups, which would certainly be a good start. But what if we listened to mothers and fathers? What if we listened to immigrant groups and those seeking shelter from ruinous policies in other countries? What if we listened to artists? What if we listened to members of religious groups that aren't mainstream Christian groups? What if we listened to mainstream Christian groups? What if we listened to poor people?
I could continue to list types of groups that haven't been a major voice at the table when public policy has been made. But what I really want to think about is the kind of public policy that might benefit more of us, the type of public policy that could lead to a society that is more aligned with principles of justice than vengeance.
I have the glimmerings of an amazing vision. And these kinds of societal transformations start with a vision. Let's dream it today.