Beyond Hatred

PBS Premiere: June 30, 2009Check the broadcast schedule »

Reactions to Beyond Hatred

David Anderson Hooker

David Anderson Hooker
Expert on Restorative Justice

David Anderson Hooker

Restorative justice is a philosophy of justice in which the needs of those harmed are placed at the center of the inquiry. In the standard (retributive) justice philosophy, the process is designed to determine what type of violation has occurred, who is at fault and what the appropriate punishment is. These processes often exclude the harmed parties and their needs during final determination of the outcome. Restorative justice, by contrast, determines who was harmed, what types of harm were done, what it would take to put right the life of those harmed and whose responsibility it is to put things right. Typical restorative processes involve the harmed parties (often in some form of dialogue or direct engagement with those who have done the harm), those who have done the harm and representatives of the community in determining an appropriate way forward.

Beyond Hatred is a beautiful portrayal of one family's journey from tragedy and loss toward recovery. The film's pace is deliberate as it captures acts of day-to-day life after a violent crime, without cinematic sensationalism. The film occurs at the pace of realization, the pace of acknowledgement and the pace of the forgiveness process.

From the perspective of a student of trauma healing and restorative justice, the power of Beyond Hatred resides in the way that it depicts an unnamed family, itself caught in a web of victimization and violence, that tragically draws another family, the family of François Chenu, into that web. After the death of François, his family members realize that they, too, are capable of unspeakable violence and the desire for revenge. Faced with this realization, they must choose between revenge and redemption.

The Chenus' reactions to the trauma are classic: numbness, loss of meaning, strain on family relationships and a sense of being stuck in time. Yet they choose to take the following steps on the pathway to healing:

  • choosing to see the perpetrators in a different light in order to "move on";
  • seeking to understand the perpetrators' stories without offering excuses for their choices;
  • honoring François with a memorial and services holding a view toward the future;
  • urging prosecution and defense counsel to consider redemption when framing the events of the crime during the trial process;
  • using the media during the aftermath of the trial to involve the entire community to right the harms they experienced and prevent similar events in the future;
  • continuing to reach out with hope for redemption of the perpetrators.

The trial was a quintessentially retributive process that employed no restorative justice practices: No victim-offender dialogue, reconciliation, restitution or creative justice memorials were employed. Only the family's continued insistence on seeking restoration of the perpetrators, even after the trial, made possible the vision of a redemptive and not merely punitive justice process.

The film ends in a place of realism: The long pathway to recovery continues for the family; the door to reconciliation remains ajar for the offenders; and the prosecution and defense are left to ponder the value of imprisonment, retribution and isolation as the model for responding to violent hate crimes. Beyond Hatred depicts one family's journey as it reveals the potential for victims, offenders, managers of the legal system and the community at large to overcome the devastation of violent crime through restorative justice.

Questions to consider:

  • Does a "life-for-a-life" model of justice continue the cycle of victimhood and violence? Explain your response. If yes, what alternatives are there to this approach to punishment? How do your proposed alternatives address the needs of the victim?
    • If no, recognizing that the vast majority of those imprisoned will return to society someday, what, if any, goals should there be for rehabilitation of the offender? How are those accomplished within the punitive responses to crime? Do pain and shame make it more or less likely that a person will re-offend?
  • Other than a sincere apology from the offenders, what did the family and communities need to set things right in this case?
  • The father described this event as a "failure of society." The family used the post-trial press conference to call the larger community to awareness and action to prevent future acts. What action would it take to prevent a François Chenu event from occurring in your community?

David Anderson Hooker (J.D., M.Div., M.P.H., M.P.A) teaches at the Eastern Mennonite University Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. He has been a mediator and facilitator since 1982 and has practiced law since 1994. As a mediator and facilitator, he has worked with communities and local and state governments in structuring and implementing community dialogue around issues of environmental justice, post-riot community reconciliation, prejudice reduction, community visioning, health care services and other issues of public policy and social concern. Hooker is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ (UCC) and currently serves as the minister for local and global missions at the historic First Congregational Church (UCC) in Atlanta.