Amy Cooper Case Points To Need For Restorative Justice

While NY State legislature weighs a new law for false police reports, restorative justice experts say their approach “needs to be the default in most situations where harm occurs.”

Kiara Thomas Jun 17, 2020

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo asked lawmakers on June 5 to pass a bill that will make it a hate crime to file false police reports based on race, gender or religion. 

The anti-bias bill, first proposed by New York Assemblymember Félix Ortiz in 2018, would impose a penalty of one to five years in prison for filing a false police report if “motivated by a perception or belief about […] race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation.”

A philosophy and social movement, restorative justice focuses on healing and rehabilitation to repair harm.

The legislation is being revived after white dog walker Amy Cooper called the police on a black birdwatcher, Christian Cooper (no relation), who asked her to leash her dog in Central Park. The birder videod the Memorial Day incident on his cellphone and it sparked national outrage when his sister posted the footage online.

“I’m going to call the cops,” Amy Cooper, warns him in the video, before dialing 911. “I’m going to tell them an African-American man is threatening my life.”

NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan said on May 29 that the NYPD and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office are considering bringing charges against Amy Cooper.

“Obviously, we don’t want to make an arrest if the Manhattan District Attorney’s office isn’t sure if they can prosecute,” Monahan said in an interview on PIX11.

Almost immediately following the incident, Amy Cooper lost her job as a vice president at the financial giant Franklin Templeton Investments. She issued an apology, which Christian Cooper accepted. However, he declined to meet with her in person.

While charges may be pending, restorative justice experts say Amy Cooper needs to understand the harm she caused.

“Although Amy Cooper has apologized for her behavior, what seems to be missing, at least from what I’ve read online, is her deep understanding of the context of how harmful her behavior was, which means the apology lacked depth,” says Sharon Goens-Bradley of Healing Justice. Restorative justice “needs to be the default in most situations where harm occurs” and that this situation is no exception. 

A philosophy and social movement, restorative justice focuses on healing and rehabilitation to repair harm after a crime. The process often involves the victim, the offender and a mediator.

The “responsible party has to acknowledge the harm and that they were responsible for causing that harm,” Mika Dashman, the founding director of the Restorative Justice Initiative. “In the restorative process, the people or person directly harmed has a voice and plays an essential role with what they need to heal to move forward in their life.”

Thirty-five states have implemented restorative justice laws. The voluntary process has been applied to school-aged children and incarcerated peoples. The Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has funded restorative justice research between young offenders and their victims and in 2017 found that “evidence suggests that some restorative justice programs — when compared to traditional approaches — can reduce future delinquent behavior and produce greater satisfaction for victims.”

“No one in the criminal justice system thinks that [the criminal justice system] works,” notes Michael Gilbert, Executive Director of the National Association of Community and Restorative Justice. “It’s more expensive [than restorative justice], socially destructive and counterproductive.” 

The DOJ’s 2020 budget totaled $29.2 billion in discretionary spending and about 80 percent of the funds were earmarked for law enforcement and detention facilities. Advocates argue restorative justice is a less costly alternative but more research is needed.

Colorado leads the country in implementing the process by law and typically requests a nominal fee for services to be paid by the juvenile or adult offender to cover costs, says the Colorado Restorative Justice Coordinating Council (CRJCC)

Most restorative justice programs in the state operate off budgets that are primarily made up of state and federal grants, which allows them the ability to offer services at low or no cost. High-Impact Victim-Offender Dialogues, which require highly-skilled restorative justice practitioners and more time to see through, typically cost $500 per case. 

Amy Cooper was “reacting as if her life was threatened when it was not,” Gilbert says of the Central Park video. “She was doing that out of ignorance and prejudice.” Whether or not she broke the law, the incident could serve to “show people what justice can be — an educational process, where dialogue is first.”

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