DURHAM — After her brother was murdered, Therese Bartholomew found herself unable to hate his killer and desperate to understand the circumstances that led the 22-year-old murderer to fire the single bullet that felled her brother.
But the criminal justice system afforded her few options for such an investigation.
Then she heard about a new movement that focuses on healing the harm that results from crime as opposed to simply meting out punishment.
Called restorative justice, the movement was the impetus for a three-hour annual event at Blacknall Presbyterian Church in Durham on Saturday afternoon. Bartholomew, who lives in Charlotte, was among family members of crime victims who came to share some of the needs they experienced - needs that weren't met in today's criminal justice process.
For Bartholomew it meant wondering whether she was crazy for wanting to explore forgiveness.
"I wondered if loving my brother Steve meant hating Karl," said Bartholomew, who has completed a documentary about the 2003 murder of her brother, SteveLeone.
Often compared to the methods used by the truth and reconciliation commission after the end of apartheid in South Africa, restorative justice is commonly misunderstood as being only about forgiveness.
"A lot of people think it's going easy on crime, letting offenders off the hook," saidKacey Reynolds, the co-director of the Durham-based Capital Restorative Justice Project that sponsored Saturday's event.
But restorative justice is much broader than a search for forgiveness, she said. It offers tools and methods to address the unmet needs of the community as a whole.
Sometimes that may take the form of mediation between the victim's family and an offender who is ready to acknowledge guilt. Other times it may create a support circle that helps the victim's family cope with the consequences of the crime.
For Effie Steele, whose daughter, Ebony Robinson, was murdered in Hillsborough in 2007, victims' families need help with functions such as funeral arrangements or baby-sitting in the days and weeks after the murder.
"We need people who know the system to accompany us and sometimes provide transportation to court and hearings," Steele told those participants Saturday.
More important, she said, victim families need community members willing to listen and offer comfort.
"We need you to think about what you would like done to you in this same situation and then do it unto us," Steele said.
More than 50 people participated in Saturday's forum, many of them members of religious congregations wanting to learn more about restorative justice. They also heard from Campbell University law professor Jon Powell, who has started a mediation process between juvenile offenders and the victims of their crimes.
Powell worked as a criminal defense lawyer until he heard of restorative justice and became convinced it offered a better way to keep juveniles from becoming repeat offenders.
Like others in the restorative justice movement, Powell isn't necessarily interested in dismantling the criminal system, but reforming it, so that transformation and healing can also be an outcome. Some states, such as Texas, allow mediators to arrange meetings within the prison system between the offenders and the victim's family members, he said.
"If the only tool we have is a hammer," he offered, "everything is going to look like a nail."
The event ended with a service of remembrance and healing for people who were violently killed.
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