Ilhan Omar Asks For Restorative Justice For The Man Who Threatened Her Life

JVL Introduction

In the teeth of those who call for harsh sentencing and banging people up for life, Ilhan Omar’s compassion and sense of social justice shines through.

Who are we as a nation.” she asks, “if we respond to threats of political retribution with retribution ourselves?

This article was originally published by The Appeal on Wed 20 Nov 2019. Read the original here.

Ilhan Omar Asks For Restorative Justice For The Man Who Threatened Her Life

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With impeachment hearings underway, there is more news than it’s possible to process coming out of Washington. But aside from the bombshells emerging from witness testimony, something else entirely stood out yesterday: a letter from Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to a federal judge in New York.

Omar’s letter was sent to Judge Frank Geraci of the Western District of New York. The case it concerns is against Patrick Carlineo, who pleaded guilty Monday to making threats on Omar’s life and faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Omar wrote to say that she hoped the judge would not sentence Carlineo to a “severe prison sentence or a substantial fine.” Instead, she said, she hoped for a process that would actually address the harm he had caused and allow him to do something about it.

The letter, shared by Omar on Twitter, begins:

Honorable Judge Geraci,

As you deliberate the sentencing of Patrick W. Carlineo, Jr., a man convicted of threatening my life, I write to ask for a system of compassion to be applied in his sentencing.

In these times, with a president who has viewed the criminal legal system as a space for expressing racism and his pardon power as a tool for pursuing his self-interest (which are related), Omar’s full letter is a bracing read. It is full of concepts our criminal legal system lacks: “compassion,” “amends,” and “repair.” These are goals that animate systems of transformative or restorative justice but are rarely at the center of the day-to-day decisions made in criminal courts across the country.

Omar’s letter is also pragmatic. (This is a word that Danielle Sered, the founder of the restorative justice organization Common Justice, frequently uses when describing survivors of harm.) A punitive approach, Omar writes, will not stop Carlineo from “committing a crime again” or be a deterrent for others. “Only restorative justice can do that,” she continues. That means “he should understand the consequences of his actions, be given the opportunity to make amends and seek redemption.”

And Omar, an elected representative with a background as an organizer, asks her audience to consider how a system invested in retribution, rather than accountability and repair, shapes a nation.

As the organizer and educator Mariame Kaba said on the Justice in America podcast last year: “People who are practitioners of restorative justice see restorative justice as a philosophy and ideology, a framework that is much broader than the criminal punishment system. It is about values around how we treat each other in the world. And it’s about an acknowledgement that because we’re human beings, we hurt each other. We cause harm.”

It is impossible to think Omar wrote her letter casually. Carlineo’s threats against her came in a phone call to her office in March. He was able to reach a staff member and, according to the complaint against him, described Omar as “terrorist.” He went on to say, as the New York Times reported: “Somebody ought to put a bullet in her skull. Back in the day, our forefathers would have put a bullet in her [expletive]. I’ll put a bullet in her [expletive] skull.”

When FBI agents interviewed Carlineo at his home outside of Buffalo, New York, a week later, he admitted to some version of those remarks. According to the Times reporting, which relied on the criminal complaint, he also told them that he was a patriot who “loved Trump” and hated “radical Muslims in our government.” Officials later found “a loaded .45-caliber handgun, three rifles, two shotguns and hundreds of rounds of ammunition” at his home. Because of a previous felony conviction, he could not legally own a firearm and also pleaded guilty to illegal possession of a firearm on Monday.

The Southern Poverty Law Center discovered Carlineo’s racist and Islamophobic Facebook posts, endorsing violence, going back as far as 2014. And the hatred that Carlineo expressed is only a symptom of the larger environment of Islamophobia and rising threats against Muslims in the U.S.

Despite this, Omar’s letter refuses to do what actors in our criminal legal system so often do reflexively. She refuses to treat Carlineo as “other.” And she describes him as someone who can change. The hatred he expressed toward her, she asserts, can be replaced. She writes:

As Nelson Mandela said, “People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

We must teach the defendant love. 

And she closes the letter as she begins, calling for compassion toward Patrick Carlineo:

For this reason, I do not believe the defendant would be served by a severe prison sentence or substantial financial fine and ask you to show compassion in your sentencing.

Omar is, of course, not the only target of threats or violence who has said that they want something for the person who harmed them that is different from vengeance. Too often, though, survivors and even people who live with haunting loss are ignored. As the federal government plans to resume executions in December after a nearly 20-year hiatus, Attorney General William Barr has described the decision as what the government “owes victims and their families.” Yet, because of qualms after seeing the sentencing process up close, at least one family does not want to see the person who killed their relatives put to death. Campbell Robertson reported for the New York Times last month on how the Department of Justice has ignored their desires.

Ilhan Omar is harder to ignore than the average victim and it remains to be seen what impact her letter will have. Representative Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, her close colleague in Congress whose recently introduced resolution to transform the criminal legal system includes restorative justice funding, applauded her, writing on Twitter: “Met with egregious attacks that put her life at risk, my sister @IlhanMN responds with compassion, humanity, and clarity that our criminal legal system is unjust.”

Comments (3)

  • Rodney Kay-Kreizman says:

    Teaching love…can and will be initially misread in some quarters as a ” weakness”…but only time will prove that the recipient may come to see that ..the lack of really hard punishment that was very costly would be ” possibly transformative” I’m not sure but can see long term it’s the only real solution .

  • John says:

    In a similar vein, the following open letter to the rabbi attacking Jeremy Corbyn from a UK imam should be reproduced as widely as possible:-

    An open letter to the Chief Rabbi about Jeremy Corbyn

    Dear Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

    My name is Ajmal Masroor. I have been an Imam for almost 30 years and I write to you today as your brother in faith and humanity.

    I proudly practice Islam in our multicultural and multi-faith country, without fear or prejudice, despite the rising levels of Islamophobia. I take a keen interest in politics and believe in actively influencing change, which is why I stood for Parliament twice – once in 2010 and again in 2018.

    I believe people of faith must play an active role in all aspects of our society, including politics. As such, I welcome your letter to The Times, where you urge us to vote with our conscience. Both our Jewish and Islamic traditions place conscience at the core of our Godly life on this Earth. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for reminding us of our innate, God-gifted tool: the conscience.

    However, I vehemently disagree with the rest of your assertions, where you suggest that Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be our next Prime Minister. You blame Jeremy Corbyn personally for the antisemitic behaviour of Labour Party members. In my humble opinion, you have made a severe error of judgment in calling Jeremy Corbyn unfit to be our Prime Minister. Before I express why, do you believe that Boris Johnson is more fit to be our Prime Minister?

    In the upcoming general election, we are limited in our choices. We know that the Liberal Democrats will never achieve enough support to win the election. We are left with a choice between the Conservative party and the Labour party. Under the Conservative party, our country has witnessed unprecedented levels of poverty, inequality, austerity, homelessness and division. The Conservative party has sold its soul to Nigel Farage’s UKIP, and now Brexit party. The true moderate and centre ground Conservative politicians have been pushed out or side-lined by the extremists within this party. If your assertion is that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour should not be supported, are you endorsing the Conservative party, that is deeply hostile to the multicultural and multi-faith fabric of our society? Inadvertently, are you telling the Jewish community to vote for a deeply Islamophobic party? Is this your idea of voting with our conscience?

    We are men of faith, and you will agree that the practise of double standards in all faiths is abhorrent. When I read about your selective outrage – calling out the Labour party for its failure to stamp out antisemitism – while turning a blind eye to the Conservative party’s Islamophobia, I felt deeply disappointed. Antisemitism is evil and we should all stand against it with all our might. Islamophobia is also evil, and we should equally stand against it. I find it deeply hypocritical when people do not observe fairness and consistency when struggling against all kinds of evil. In Judaism, as in Islam, justice and fair dealings are considered closest to Godliness. Sadly, your letter did not display justice or fairness towards Jeremy Corbyn, and instead came across as a cheap attempt at political posturing.

    If I was told to choose between a lying, philandering and narcissistic clown and a truthful, principled and humble socialist, my choice would be easy. I would never entrust the future of our country to the hands of a man who is an occupational liar. I would never ask the people of our country to vote for a man who makes a mockery of clean and principled politics. The only thing Boris Johnson is interested in is himself; not our country, and certainly not community cohesion.

    Jeremy Corbyn has a forty year track record of selfless service to his constituency and the absolute interest of all people in our country. He has always been a genuine friend of the minorities, disadvantaged and vulnerable. Why would you suggest that he was unfit for the Prime Minister’s office?

    What is Jeremy Corbyn’s actual crime that has led you to deeming him unfit for the job? Has Jeremy Corbyn personally been accused of antisemitism? The answer is an emphatic ‘No’! He has never been accused of antisemitism.

    On the other hand, Boris Johnson has made many inflammatory and deeply offensive remarks about Islam and Muslim women, including citing Islam as the reason for backwardness, violence and economic degeneration within the Muslim communities. He has also likened Muslim women, who wear face covering, to “bank robbers” and “letter boxes”. In the week of his remark, anti-Muslim hate crime spiked by more than 300%. And he hasn’t stopped at the Muslim community alone. His opinion and remarks on minority communities has been abhorrent, including saying he was afraid of black men; that black people were “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”, and referred to gay men as “bum boys”. Is this the rhetoric you expect from the leader of our country?

    I know the Labour party is accused of antisemitism, and the UK human rights commission is currently investigating it. I pray the investigation is thorough and where strands of antisemitism are identified, that they are promptly and swiftly removed and publicly admonished. But surely you would agree that the Conservative party should also be investigated for Islamophobia. Allegation alone is not enough for faith leaders like us to charge entire parties. Our claims must be substantiated, with credible evidence, and then we must wait for investigations to completed and for those findings to be made public. Both of our religious traditions have a rich, ethical parameter on how to deal with accusations, and how to challenge hatred. I am saddened to say that I believe you have violated this very principle by adding further fuel to an allegation; an act that is not only irresponsible but astoundingly dangerous in the middle of the most important election of our time.

    I have always respected you as a man of faith and expected you to adhere to a higher standard of moral and ethical probity. I did not expect your high office to be compromised by spreading aspersions on Jeremy Corbyn. By doing so, you have become actively involved in what is essentially a smear campaign against Jeremy Corbyn, who has never been antisemitic in his life. The plain truth is that there are numerous accounts of Jeremy Corbyn championing all forms of campaigns to eradicate hate crime from our society, including standing up for the rights of our Jewish communities in and around the UK. He has equally championed the right of the Palestinians too. He has recognised failings within the party, taken responsibility for these, offered an apology and vowed to do better. He has been honest and upright, and as a man of faith, I would expect you to follow suit.

    Your statement carries with it a grave dishonesty, and I am deeply disappointed by it. In a time of political and social crisis across the world, let us adhere to honesty first and foremost. And in this very spirit, let me ask you: have you called Jeremy Corbyn antisemitic because he has been critical of the Israeli government’s policy of occupation, expansion of illegal settlements and dehumanisation of the Palestinian people? Using your pulpit to broadcast the same message as those who have weaponised antisemitism is plainly irresponsible. It beggars belief that you would find criticism of Israel or its political ideology of Zionism as antisemitism. No state or political ideology is beyond reproach. You falsely labelling Jeremy Corbyn as an anti-Semite will not silence people, nor will it deter people from standing up against Israeli aggression and violence against the Palestinian people.

    It pains me to know that as a man of faith first and foremost, you have been a clear supporter of the Israeli government’s aggression against the Palestinian people. In August 2014, you wrote that Israel had “understandably and justifiably defended her citizens” by taking disproportionate and indiscriminate military action in Gaza, killing innocent men, women and children. Israel continues its illegal policies of assassination, destruction of Palestinian homes, confiscation of Palestinian people’s land, occupation, collective punishment and keeps an iron fist around the Palestinian people’s right to freely move – even within their own areas. It has built the disgraceful apartheid wall and it steals water from the Palestinians and then sells it back to the Palestinians. You have remained silent about the state-sponsored injustices perpetrated by Israel, and now you are criticising Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism for championing the rights of Palestinians.

    You have been a supporter of Benyamin Netanyahu, who has been convicted on many corruption charges, including fraud, breach of trust and bribery. You have no moral authority to lecture us on how Jeremy Corbyn is unfit to be the Prime Minister of our country. You have politicised your spiritual position to influence voters and I believe this is totally wrong. You are abusing your office to silence criticism of Israel, and that too is totally wrong. As a man of faith, you should know better.

    If we believe that as men of faith, we should be leading our communities in the way of honesty and integrity, I would urge you to reconsider your position. Our people deserve better; we can and should be better.

    Your brother in faith,
    Imam Ajmal Masroor


    Jeremy Corbyn

  • different frank says:

    Much love and respect.
    Great letter that speaks for all decent people.

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