During my time as an undergraduate one of my majors was criminal justice. The program curriculum covered everything from the philosophy, logic and application of law, the idea of “crime” and the sociological factors and theories which attempt to explain it, as well as the history and various theories and practical approaches to policing. Of the many theories in the field, two concepts seemed to offer the most logical approach to maintain peace and justice within communities; restorative justice and community policing.
Restorative justice is based on the idea of restoring the imbalance created by “crime” or conflict within a community. The key aspect is that the people of the community would work together with the offender to find a remedy that would not only restore the balance of peace within the community but more importantly address the question of how to reintegrate and restore the offender in the belief that they can be redeemed through the positive support of their community. To simplify, the theory of restorative justice focuses on restoration and redemption rather than retribution.
Community policing is a theory that police must prioritize proactive crime prevention by working with the communities they serve. This theory emphasizes continuous discussions and interaction between the police and the people of the community with the objective being establishing a relationship based on mutual respect, understanding and trust. Rather than having officers who only react to crime (for example when neighborhoods only interact with police when they are coming to arrest or detain people from the communities), or having officers who either patrol or park in neighborhoods but never leave their vehicles, the ideal situation would be to have police who are from the community, live in the community and have regular positive social interaction with the people of the community.
When analyzing the two concepts, it´s difficult to understand why these theories are not being applied and tested universally. Coming from Chicago, it is clear that our reactive policing strategies and tactics are completely ineffective. Many conventional state police forces place officers into communities that have absolutely no connection to or contextual understanding of. They are often encouraged to be adversarial and to act as a force of intimidation, typically only appearing after crime has occurred or to arrest or detain the people of the communities. This approach has only encouraged friction, distrust and conflict between the communities and the police.
Violent crime, police and state repression and violence are all on the rise. We can see that across the globe that the current policing practices only serve to intimidate and reinforce the authoritative power of the state instead of promoting peace or actually protecting and serving the people. It is evident that an immediate alternative is desperately needed. Fortunately, we need not look far, the alternative exists in the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS-Rojava).
In the DFNS the issues of justice, peace, policing and community conflict resolution are all based on the core ideas of Democratic Confederalism. The focus of these structures are feminism, restorative justice, community policing, non-violent conflict resolution.
The Hêzên Parastina Cewherî (HPC), the Civil Defense Forces, are the municipal-level police force. HPC members are people from the community, they volunteer and are confirmed by the people of the community. HPC primarily work in the community they are from, however they will sometimes provide support for large public/political events and elections. HPC works with Peace and Consensus Committees which are the local level judicial structures within the communes, formed by volunteers from, nominated and confirmed by the people of the community. It is between HPC and the Peace and Consensus Committees that all minor crimes and local conflicts are primarily addressed.
While HPC is composed of men and women, each community’s local HPC has a unit composed exclusively of women: the HPC-Jin. These women’s HPC units work with the local autonomous women’s Peace and Consensus Committees and are the only local security forces permitted to respond to any conflict or issues related to women’s rights, domestic violence, child custody, divorce or women’s security.
All members of HPC as well the other civil security forces must pass extensive training in Democratic Confederalism, feminism and non-violent conflict resolution before they receive weapons and weapons training. Reflective of the commune system and the ideas of Democratic Confederalism, HPC members are required to participate in regular “tekmil” (criticism/self-criticism, suggestion discussions) and are subject to removal should the people of the community deem it necessary.
An interesting personal observation from my time in Rojava was the demographic makeup of the HPC is that they were often in the age group of 40+. Many were the parents or grandparents of active members of YPG/YPJ or Asayish (federation level, internal security forces). These HPC members would often be sitting out in plastic chairs on the corners of their blocks accompanied by their neighbors engaging in friendly discussions over tea. They knew everyone in the neighborhood and evidently enjoyed a relationship of mutual respect and trust with the people of the community.
The relationship between HPC and the military defense units (i.e. YPG/YPJ) further illustrates the ideas of Democratic Confederalism and the power resting in the community at the smallest, grassroots level. In many cases, when military personnel are in civilian areas they are subject to the policies of the local HPC. For example, during my time in the YPG, we arrived in a convoy of several vans into a civilian area. We parked on the street and all began to exit the vehicles with our weapons and gear. 3 HPC members on the corner of their block immediately signaled to our commander that we couldn’t walk through the area with our weapons and that the convoy was parked in an inconvenient location. Rather than disregarding or using our sizable force to intimidate the 3 elderly HPC members, our commander immediately complied, moved the vans and instructed us to leave all of our weapons and gear in the vehicles.
According to a 2015 Amnesty International report, there were approximately 400 individuals detained in the prisons of the DFNS. The vast majority of these individuals were in prison on terror charges related to involvement with ISIS or other Islamist terror groups. There is no death penalty in in the DFNS. Those who are in prison are encouraged to participate in programs aimed at reintegrating them into society. The long-term stated goals, is that all citizens will be given the same training as HPC and Asayish, thus removing the need for conventional police forces and allowing the establishment a truly democratic justice system.
Although, this new system warrants further research and more statistical data, it is clear that the theories behind HPC and grassroots, restorative justice and community conflict resolution in the DFNS hold great promise. These ideas are universally applicable and certainly offer a viable alternative to the systematic failures and often violently repressive, divisive, intimidating and undemocratic state police and justice systems that remain dominant throughout the globe.