Envisioning a New Justice Paradigm: Fania Davis on Racial Healing and the George Floyd Moment

An audience of 450 delegates at RJ World 2020 tuned into a vivid keynote by Fania Davis. A civil rights trial lawyer for 27 years and a seasoned restorative justice writer and practitioner, Davis’s credentials made her the perfect candidate to address some of the most pressing questions of our time. Her specialized knowledge in the intersections of racial justice, indigeneity, and restorative justice promised an insightful session. And she delivered, seamlessly navigating the complex terrains of racial tensions, justice, and societal transformation.

Davis began by posing a potent question that has resonated with many since the tragic death of George Floyd: What does justice require in this defining George Floyd moment? With the backdrop of ongoing protests, calls for systemic change, and a renewed focus on racial justice, Davis dissected the historical role of U.S. police, pinpointing them as enforcers of white supremacy and agents of racial terror. This historical perspective provided attendees with a deep understanding of the centuries-old dynamics that culminated in the present societal outcry.

One of the most provocative points Davis raised was the idea of defunding the police. Far from being a simplistic or reactionary cry, she framed this call as a fundamentally abolitionist one. It was an invitation to the collective imagination of society, a push to envision a future where public safety mechanisms operate in a manner where Black lives unequivocally matter.

But Davis didn’t stop there. While the spotlight has often focused on individual officers and their actions, Davis urged the audience to look beyond this narrow frame of justice. Instead of merely blaming, judging, and punishing individual officers, she stressed the importance of a nationwide truth-telling process. This would entail acknowledging historical wrongs, taking responsibility for them, and committing to collective action for repair.

Her words resonated deeply, underscoring the need for a transformative justice that goes beyond punitive measures. By recognizing history’s pain, she argued, we can pave the way for transformed social relations and structures.

Davis’s vision of justice was rooted in grassroots efforts. She passionately argued that genuine change can’t be top-down. It needs to come from the very communities that have been affected, and it needs to reflect shared leadership models. Drawing on her extensive background in restorative justice, Davis highlighted its core values—respect, responsibility, relationality, and radical healing—as the foundation upon which this new justice paradigm should be built.

The audience left with a lot to ponder. Davis’s keynote was a clarion call to rethink our traditional notions of justice. Rather than being a mere reactionary force, justice, in Davis’s view, should be a proactive endeavor, one that seeks not just to address individual wrongs but to reshape the very fabric of society. It should be a process of healing, of mending the ruptures of history, and of ensuring that tragedies like that of George Floyd are not repeated.

In a world grappling with racial tensions and cries for systemic change, Fania Davis’s presentation was a beacon, illuminating a path toward a more equitable, compassionate, and just society.