26 March, 2014

Eleven thoughtful people: Meeting the boy who attacked

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Category: Discrimination, Guest writer, Racism
Gubaz Koberidze
7 pm

Úna KavanaghBy Úna Kavanagh

Úna Kavanagh meets the boy who attacked her as part of Ireland’s ‘restorative justice’ initiative, where victims/targets meet and talk to their attackers.

“I’m sorry”, he mumbled.

It was the first time since the attack that I had come face-to-face with the boy who had physically assaulted and racially abused me in broad daylight in Dublin city.

The boy who was 14.

The room was clinical with 11 chairs, blue, black and red, blue painted walls with tables stacked against the sides.

It was like a classroom that had been set-up for circle time. There were 11 people in the room – 2 families, 3 Gardaí, 1 social worker and an observer.

The meeting was part of a system called restorative justice, where the attacker meets with the victim to discuss the consequences of their actions and the way it has affected the person involved. I felt nauseous and light-headed, you could feel the tension.

“Can you tell me about what happened?”

Each person went through their involvement in the story, through what had happened on the day and how we felt it had affected us and the people involved.

The boy, let’s call him “John”, was small, hunched over with his hands in the pockets. He sat in a way that suggested he was bored.

When he described what he had done to me, and went through how he had spat and me, grabbed me and called me a “fucking chink”, that moment on Parnell Street on that sunny May evening came flooding back.

There seemed to be little or no empathy in his voice when he recalled his actions but there was sincere sadness and regret when his parents spoke about how they felt when the detectives called to their home.

It’s hard to speak about what happened in that room for 45 minutes without feeling a sense of exhaustion. We went through a steered meeting where things were addressed but it was incredibly difficult to figure out how the boy was feeling.

There were times when he yawned and looked down at the ground and there were times when he shoved his hands into his pockets and didn’t engage – but I was prepared for that reaction.

His parents spurred on his feeble apology and his father apologized sincerely himself, but that wasn’t what I was there for.

For me, this was about meeting a young boy and about getting him to see that I was exactly like him – just a person. It was about getting him to see that he had hurt a person and other people because of his actions.

I told him that I was saddened by his actions but was glad that I was able to turn it into an awareness campaign – I told him of how the story had been covered extensively across the media in Ireland and abroad and how many people thought that his actions were not okay and upsetting.

My mother spoke to him about the heartbreak she felt when I called her to tell her what had happened, and told him that she hoped that he would learn from this and grow up to be a fine young man, which I also believe he has the potential to do.

So after that meeting… and after all that…

Do I think the boy is a racist?

Absolutely not, but he’s currently being steered by the wrong group with a pack mentality, that think that throwing slurs and spitting at people is ok. I have no ill feelings towards him or his family and never had – I’m still just disappointed in him.

I’m not sure if he’ll do what he did again, and to be honest I have a feeling that he may if he sticks with the group he’s with – I just hope that he proves me wrong and doesn’t.

A thank you to friends, family, the Gardaí (Irish police force), online support and to my amazing mother and my boyfriend Pádhraic who acted as an incredible support through this all. It’s been a long journey but it’s not over yet – life is about making a difference and celebrating the different.

This is an original post by Úna Kavanagh, a young Irish journalist working in Dublin. You can read more about her attack in Dublin city at ‘Today I was spat on because I looked different.

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