Throughout the world, political figures, scholars, activists, professionals and religious and
philanthropic leaders are inventing a new philosophy of justice. They want a system that responds to crime and
disorder by doing everything possible to repair and undo the damage they cause. In their system, there will still be
retribution for criminal acts, but there will also be the strongest possible emphasis on compensation and restitution;
whether by the person responsible or the larger society that takes its duty to preserve and protect with all the
seriousness in the world. There will be vigorous reform and investment of resources where some tragedy makes
plain the necessity for action. There will also be efforts to heal people -- both individuals and classes of victims --
who have been the victims of physical or psychological damage caused by crime.
Recently, the Honourable Bairbre De Brun, Northern Ireland's Minister of Health, presided over the opening of a stae-of-the-art treatment center in Belfast for persons who have sustained paralyzing spinal cord injuries (SCI). In a community in which there has been thirty years of shootings, beatings, bombings, civil disturbances put down by lawful force, the number of people who have sustained SCI must be fairly significant. Here in the United States, the violent crack wars of the 80s similarly left behind many SCI victims, many of whom are desperately poor and do not have access to care, treatment, rehabilitation and equipment that would improve the quality of their lives. Justice -- restorative justice -- demands that we extend help and hope to those victims and their families. In doing so, we are sending the most powerful message we can to those who would commit crimes and use violence: We will never let them prevail.
With all of this in mind, and in support of Professor Constantine's historic mission in Northern Ireland, we have brought one of our most imaginative and impressive resorative justice initiatives -- one that he played a key role in effectuating -- to Minister De Brun's attention. Let's hope she likes the idea.
14 August 2000
The Honourable Bairbre De Brun
Office of the Minister
Department of Health, Social Services
and Public Safety
Stormont, Belfast BT4 3SJ UK
Dear Minister De Brun:
I read this week of your recent opening of the refurbished Spinal Cord Injuries Unit at Musgrave Park Hospital. That is very good news. I should like to inform you of better news still.
In January 1998, I got a call from Paul Richter, a former New York state trooper who was forcibly retired by reason of disability in 1973. Mr. Richter had been shot and left for dead by the side of the road near Lake Placid, NY on the night of September 30, 1973. This criminal assault left him paralyzed. His call was to inform me that the state of Florida had enacted a law that imposed a surcharge on penalties for traffic offenses, the proceeds of which were to fund care for victims and research toward treatment and cure of spinal cord injury (SCI) paralysis and traumatic brain injury. He wanted to know if I thought we could get such a law enacted in New York. Mr. Richter is a very dear friend and he and his family (He and his wife Marie Claire had six small children at the time of his injury.) had done much over the years to help other families devastated by SCI sustained by a loved one. I promised to do everything I could to help him.
We succeeded beyond any reasonable expectation. Our bill was introduced in the New York State Legislature in April 1998 and was signed into law by Governor George E. Pataki in July -- less than four months later. I'm somewhat of an expert on the legislative process and I can attest that a success of this magnitude is a rare thing indeed. Our new program is generating some $8.5 million a year to support research toward a cure for SCI paralysis. The best doctors assure me that we are very close to major breakthroughs. The first research grants are due to be awarded within a few months.
We succeeded because a lot of people came out and supported us in the campaign to get this law enacted. Many of our supporters were people who know Mr. Richter. One of them was a classmate of his in the 1962 session of the Basic School of the New York State Police Academy. His name is certainly familiar to you -- Tom Constantine. The same Tom Constantine who is serving as Oversight Commissioner for the implementation of the Patten Report reforms of the police service in Northern Ireland. We knew a turning point in our campaign had been reached the day the sponsors of the bill and Governor Pataki received a heartfelt letter on the letterhead of the Drug Enforcement Administration telling of Mr. Richter's courage and dedication. Professor Constantine wrote: "I watched Paul on a daily basis fight his way back from virtually complete paralysis to become a productive individual despite his new handicap. Despite all of this pain and suffering, he never gave up and never became bitter. Quite the opposite; he devoted his life to charitable causes."
Professor Constantine was not able to be with us when Governor Pataki signed our bill, but our common effort to help Mr. Richter has touched many lives and the Professor certainly shares in the grace of that. In the two years since, some six other states have passed similar legislation, adding millions of dollars a year toward research. It has brought a great deal of hope to many people, including, we would hope, the patients at Musgrave Park and their families. It has also caused us to take a closer look at the phenomenon of SCI. When we launched our campaign, we were aware that the majority of SCI cases in the United States were the result of road accidents. But we learned some interesting things along the way. In America's inner cities, the decade of the 1980s witnessed the crack cocaine epidemic that brought an unprecedented level of gun violence to the streets. There is, as a result, a very significant number of SCI victims in the United States who are paralyzed because of gunshot wounds. Many of these people were innocent bystanders in the crack wars. Most of them are desperately poor and have little medical attention which results in the most horrible complications of SCI. I've not done any research on this, but I would hardly be surprised to learn that there is a substantial number of the victims of the Troubles whose injuries resulted in SCI paralysis.
In the United States, politicians routinely co-opt victims of violent crimes into campaigns for harsher laws and longer prison sentences. They gain headlines and win elections. Unfortunately, their rhetoric overshadows the movement toward a more restorative form of justice. I am very proud to have joined Paul Richter and Tom Constantine in this effort to undo some of the horrendous damage caused to other human beings by those who do violence or who operate motor vehicles with reckless disregard for the safety of others. Professor Constantine prides himself on being "a cop's cop" so you won't hear him making speeches or philosophizing on this topic. The fact remains that we wouldn't have had the success we did without his support and the leadership he gave to many other law enforcement executives and organizations who supported us. He and Paul Richter epitomize something I love about our New York state troopers: They can do anything; which is a good thing to know now that Professor Constantine is at work on the reform of your police service. And if you have occasion to meet him, please let him know that you are aware of his efforts on behalf of SCI victims.
Very truly yours,
1962 State Police Academy classmates Paul Richter and Tom Constantine share a quiet moment on yet another momentous occasion. Says Tom of his classmate: "If Paul Richter is after something, don't get in his way!"
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