What Next?

  | Food For Thought, GM Report

We had a visit not too long ago from Tracy Shriver, the Windham County State’s Attorney. She, along with Mel Motel from the Brattleboro Community Justice Center, proposed a program whereby the Brattleboro Police Department, on our behalf, would refer persons caught stealing items under a certain dollar amount from the Co-op to the Restorative Justice Center to work on confronting their behavior and making things right, for us, our shareholders, and our community.

Let me back up for a minute. As many of you know, we have experienced an increase in criminal activity in and around our store as more of our town’s population find themselves in the throes of addiction, homelessness, or both. One such activity is theft, and our security staff have had their hands full trying to contend with this behavior. We hear that we have more retail theft than some other similar businesses in town, and the result is that the backlog of processing retail thefts has grown beyond our system’s capacity to effect change.

Enter the Brattleboro Community Justice Center. This local non-profit, staffed largely by trained volunteers, provides a variety of services to change the conversation with those who do harm, like retail theft, to face the repercussions of that act and to find ways to address the root causes of that act in collaboration with those who both “harm and are harmed.” The Brattleboro Community Justice Center’s philosophy states that their aim “is to identify responsibilities, meet needs, and promote healing through the involvement of people most directly impacted by harm and community members.”

Here is the beautiful thing. What does our Co-op provide our community, besides great food and a welcoming gathering place? Community-minded volunteers! If you are a concerned community member who wishes to participate in some meaningful way to assist with turning some of these challenging issues around, consider contacting the Brattleboro Community Justice Center to join a Restorative Justice Panel. We would, of course, credit you with four months of shareholder-work service for this effort, as we do for all of your work for non-profits in our community.

In the case of our Co-op, the persons charged with retail theft by our Police Department will have 72 hours to contact the Brattleboro Community Justice Center to arrange for their process. At the end of that time, if they have not acted on this opportunity, their case will revert to normal prosecution through the justice system. The Restorative Justice process, by the way, involves 90 days of work based on a contract arrived at with the person involved. It’s not easy but may well break a cycle that has not to date been effective.

We’re not sure how this will ultimately play out, but we would be foolish not to try multiple approaches to improve our community situation. This particular piece of the solution can involve you, and we are very excited about that potential.

Speaking of downtown and of our town’s struggle to balance the issues of homelessness and addiction with the needs of businesses and their shoppers, many initiatives are moving forward to try to address various aspects of the conflict. I have heard from several shoppers searching for how best to interact with the persons asking for help on the streets nearby. How you wish to respond is, of course, up to your own values. I offer several possibilities: saying hello and having a pleasant brief interaction is always good. We sometimes don’t acknowledge those we pass by due to our own discomfort. Some shoppers wish to purchase food for someone they passed on the way in. If you wish to do so, we recommend a hot beverage, a smoothie, or a delicious offering from our Deli. And some shoppers just hand over money. But if you are conflicted about that, just be pleasant and move on by. And, as always, thank you for shopping at your Co-op. We appreciate you and the efforts you make to get here!

By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager