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Zachary Norris, Repairing Harm from Racial Injustice: An Analysis of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, 94 Denver Law Review 515- 535 (Spring, 2017) (145 Footnotes Omitted) (FULL ARTICLE)


ZacharyNorrisBoth the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in the United States and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC or the Commission) in South Africa demonstrate how institutional interests can subvert processes aimed at remedying harm from past racial injustice, while also pointing toward what success may require. The goal of this Article is to explore the promises and limitations of two very distinct processes that share similar aims, the JRI (United States, 2002-present) and the Commission (South Africa, 1995-2003). While distinct, the desire to ameliorate the impacts of past racial injustice by investing in communities harmed shaped each process's creation. Despite praise, neither process succeeded in accomplishing the aims that catalyzed their creation. They failed to do so because (1) neither process effectively engaged community members' core interests; (2) both processes adopted narrow conceptions of harm and violence; and (3) both processes came to be dominated by the interests of established powerful institutions.

Given ongoing fissures along racial lines in the United States, it befits us to learn from these policies to move towards the development of more successful racial justice and healing processes that could assist in ending structural racism. Justice-oriented policy work could be more successful in accomplishing these aims by investing in communities utilizing a participatory democracy process, challenging fear-based narratives directed toward people of color, and expanding conceptions of violence and peace toward a broader conception of human rights.

This Article will first examine the historical context of racial injustice in South Africa and the United States, identifying commonalities between Apartheid, slavery, and Jim Crow laws. It will build upon that historical analysis by investigating the development of the Commission in South Africa and the JRI in the United States, identifying how both were implemented and the causes for their failures. The Article will offer recommendations for how to challenge the neoliberal consensus and structural inequities by analyzing government efforts to serve the public, people-powered movements to challenge neoliberalism, the impact of narrowly defining safety, and the importance of acknowledging structural violence instead of punishing people of color. It will conclude with examples of campaigns and initiatives that effectively challenge the status quo and racial and economic injustices in South Africa and the United States.



Zachary Norris is the Executive Director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, an organization that shifts resources away from and prisons and punishment and towards opportunities that make our communities safe, healthy, and strong.


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