Students accused of vandalizing Arlington High School with swastika, hate speech offered ‘restorative justice’

ARLINGTON, MASS. (WHDH) - The 14 students accused of breaking into Arlington High School earlier this month during an incident that left vending machines, display cases and fire extinguishers damaged and resulted in the discovery of a swastika and anti-gay slurs painted on the side of the building, will have the option of “restorative justice” rather than criminal prosecution, town officials said.

Officers responding to a report of damage and graffiti at the high school about 5:42 a.m. on May 2 launched an investigation that quickly led to the identification of 14 male students as the suspects responsible for the break-in, vandalism, and hate speech, police said.

In a statement released Monday, Arlington town officials said that once the students were identified, “The difficult task now lay in determining the proper response and consequences for those responsible – be it any combination of punishment, restitution, and repair of the breach of peace, security, and sense of safety in the community.”

“What occurred earlier this month was deeply upsetting on a multitude of levels, and it does not represent either the image we have in mind for our community or the beliefs of our residents and young people,” read a joint statement from the town manager, police chief, superintendent, and various community groups.

“While the actions of a few students are truly heinous, we have the chance now to emerge stronger than ever before as a community, and the plan our leadership team has put forward says in a clear voice that we intend to do just that.”

After consulting with local LGBTQIA+ and Jewish community organizations, the Arlington Police Department reached out to all 14 students and their families and offered each the opportunity to go through the restorative justice process, which police say exists in three phases:

  • Victims of crime are given the opportunity to address those who have harmed them, to ask questions in a safe environment, and to share ideas on ways that the harm can be repaired.
    Offenders better understand the impact of their actions, are held accountable, make financial restitution and encouraged to make amends to those they have harmed.
  • The community offers support for the process, strengthening community connections, and engaging in matters of concern to its members.
  • Most importantly, restorative justice requires buy-in from both the offenders and the victims in a given situation. The offenders would be working directly with members of the school community, Jewish community, and LGBTQIA+ community on a long-term process.

“Those not willing to participate in the restorative process will have their case prosecuted in court,” police wrote in a statement. “Restorative justice will allow the suspects to right their wrongs without receiving a criminal record or a court arraignment that could follow them for lives.”

The students still face individual discipline from the Arlington Public Schools including suspension and exclusion from senior and other school events, police said.

“We recognize that it is faster and easier to arrest and prosecute these individuals rather than go through the restorative justice process, which requires more of a commitment from the offender,” police wrote. “However, we believe that this proposed solution will bring everyone into the same room and provide opportunities for long-term growth, education, healing, and a repair of this breach in our community.”

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