Fambul Tok: The Movie

My last post on  Sierre Leone’s NGO Fambul Tok was based on my viewing several weeks ago of the 2011 film of the same name, directed by Sara Terry and co-produced by Libby Hoffman, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in questions of crime, punishment, and justice.  In brief, it concerns the NGO’s work in Sierra Leone’s communities with reconciling victims and perpetrators of the country’s civil war, which lasted from 1991-2002. It begins at a bonfire in a small village with a rape victim confronting and eventually forgiving the rapist, her uncle. In another village, former best friends are reconciled; one, as an impressed child soldier for the rebels, had killed the other’s father. A sister of a notorious rebel leader, who remains missing, begs and receives forgiveness on her brother’s behalf from the cousins and neighbors whose families he had brutalized by torture, rape and murder.

As the film explains through its central spokesperson John Caulker, Fambul Tok was developed as an alternative to the post-war commissions that had, until the film was released, prosecuted only a handful of war criminals, none of them of top rank. The cost to the nation of that nearly decade-long Western-style process was in the tens of millions of dollars. Meanwhile, Fambul Tok’s brand of justice had cost about $US 1 million  since it was founded in 2007 until the film’s release last year and had reconciled hundreds of former antagonists. Continue reading

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A Radical Approach to Justice: Fambul Tok

As I was saying yesterday, we Americans carry with us a pretty basic understanding of how “justice” is officially carried out in our names, and we “law-abiding” ones don’t usually give it much thought other than to see it as a deterrent to any “criminal” urges we or our fellow citizens might have. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, if it really does deter people from injuring others in some way. I think most would agree that when a person is violent or injurious to other people, we want that person’s liberty restrained so that they aren’t able to cause harm anymore. The question becomes, however, how long should their liberty be taken from them? And beyond that, who is responsible for dispensing this justice and why them? (And, furthermore, who guards the guards?) Continue reading

Why We Need a New Approach to Justice

I’ve been absent from this blog for a while, feeling frankly too hopeless about the political situation to pick up on my usual themes and too busy reading for pay as a professional reviewer to have much time to explore other ideas. But I have been thinking about something that I’d like to begin exploring on this blog, just setting aside the question of whether it can ever become a more generally salient idea for discussion elsewhere, let alone a movement for radical change. In a word: I’d like to propose a radical rethinking of justice, crime and punishment.

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#Irene: 12,000 on Rikers Island Don’t Count On NYC’s Evacuation Map

Residents of this island are not included in New York City's evacuation plan.

If you look at the map of evacuation zones New York City is sharing with New Yorkers to let them know which of the city’s coastal areas are most at risk should Hurricane Irene live up to the hype and deliver a disaster on Saturday and Sunday, you might not notice right away that only one of the large islands in the city’s waterways is uncoded:  A rather substantial white form, like a little Greenland, sitting in the place where the East River and Long Island Sound blend, just northwest of LaGuardia Airport in the bay between the Bronx and Queens.

West of that large shape are a couple of tiny ones, also uncoded. Those are uninhabited. The large white shape, however, is home to about 12,000 people, though that number fluctuates. That shape is Rikers Island, site of five of the city’s prisons. (To find it more easily on the Times map linked to above, enter “Rikers Island, Bronx, NY 10474” in the “Go to Your Address” form in the legend.) Continue reading