Detroit: The Spirit of Community
Individuals are taking charge of their community, as restorative practices takes root in Detroit. The IIRP is collaborating with the nonprofit Black Family Development, Inc. to improve the lives of Detroit’s families and children. The project, “Toward a Restorative City: Focus on Schools and Sustainability for the City of Detroit,” is in its second year. Multi-year funding for up to five years is being provided by the Skillman Foundation.
One area of focus has been the Ninth Police Precinct. There, longstanding tensions were tearing neighbors apart. Residents felt unsafe in their homes. Incessant calls to police were unable to resolve the problems.
But community members have been coming together in monthly training sessions to tackle these issues. Police Commander Charles Mahone, a big believer in the power of restorative practices to heal relationships, has helped lead the sessions. He has made sure residents understand that the success of the program depends on them, insisting, “You can be the difference in your neighborhood!”
At the initial meeting, participants began by confronting each other with mistrust and anger. Then Charles asked each individual, “What has been the hardest thing for you?” Suddenly, as each person shared — residents, neighborhood leaders and police officers — the yelling stopped. People were actually listening to each other. Gradually, the mistrust and anger dissipated, replaced by understanding and empathy. For the first time, people felt a spark of hope for the future of their neighborhood.
Six months after that meeting, the number of calls to police dropped 95%. Aggravated assaults dropped 18%, after being up 12% the year before. The number of people participating in meetings is increasing. Individuals are seeing firsthand how they can heal their own conflicts and increase safety in their homes and neighborhoods through honest communication.
Illustration by Dan Archer of Empathic Media