The lights in the courtroom shined bright on the face of Andrew Wheeler as he faced a jury of mainly Black and Brown constituents from across the country and read his opening statement. It was 11:00 am on asome Tuesday morning in the year 2050, but despite the lateness of the day it was dark outside; the clouds hung low over D.C. due to the air pollution clinging to the atmosphere. It was almost as if the clouds wanted to bear witness as this once-powerful EPA Administrator faced a jury of his peers.
Similar to this one, hundreds of trials for restorative environmental justice have been going on consecutively for weeks now in states spanning across the nation. Thousands of people who have been harmed, or have family who have been harmed, by toxic industries or exploitative, neglectful governments have been called out of work to bear witness to these atrocities and testify.
It all started here, nearly 40 years ago, in the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut where a 498 foot tall smokestack towered directly over six schools, a major public housing complex, and a university. A report from the NAACP reported that “”The average income of people who live within one mile of the plant is just $11,400, and over 87 percent of them are people of color”. And although local environmental groups and residents protested and campaigned for the closing of the plant that was poisoning their air and bodies, in 2013 the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the federal Environmental Protection Agency approved a new five-year operating permit that November.
Sweat pooling on his forehead as Wheeler proceeded to plead guilty to the jury – there was too much evidence stacked against him. Through the power of local historical institutions, hundreds of records were dug up from workers within the federal government who bore witness to the corruption that was taking place. It was only a matter of time before agencies and officers like Wheeler would serve lifetime sentences for their crimes against humanity and these communities were given fair reparation for the inhuman burdens city governments have leveled on their backs for generations.
Stories like this one are not an anomaly; that is, Black and Brown people being left to live in what are essentially sacrifice zones by neglectful or corrupt government agencies and officers and toxic companies who will do anything to cut costs and maximize their profits.
Without acknowledging these histories and using frameworks of restorative justice in our planning processes, we continue to see communities dumped on by the government and by big industry. What if we were to assess Gov. Lamont’s CT2030 transportation plan with such a framework and truthfully acknowledges the histories of ‘urban renewal’, gentrification, and the impacts that the highway development has had on thriving Black and and Brown communities? (I’ll return to this in a subsequent post.)
If you were to fast forward to the year 2050, or 2200, what would a world that embodies restorative justice based in truth and equity look like? What would it look like in your state or in your city or in your neighborhood?
Right now, the world is in desperate need of visionaries to change the narrative as plans and policies which will have either a positive or negative impact on our communities and the climate will be rising to the surface in the coming decade. Once we know the destination we want to get to (a just sustainable future), maybe then we can steer ourselves in the right direction by digging deep and advocating for the kind of structural changes we need to get there.
This post will be the beginning of a series of blogposts where I investigate certain climate policies and histories through a lens of restorative justice. If you’re interested in a Prezi I made which inspired this series you can view it here.