After five days, I find myself hating Richard for what he has inflicted upon us. I can’t imagine what the family and friends of Michael Martin feel.

If justice was ours, how might we enact it? I scan my brain, seeking appropriate acts of restitution, but can find none for a life taken.

I think back to a lecture given in Marlboro by the author Kim John Payne. Though the focus was on education, Kim shared a story about the Maori tribe in his native New Zealand, telling us how they creatively responded to crime and punishment.

Rather than lock two young men behind bars for stealing a car, the men had to face the victim of their crime–a single mother, who was unable to get to work or attend school due to the loss. Alternately, the “court” of community members heard the stories of these two young men, how their lives led to the crime, and how it affected them.

Each party–the young men and the single mother–had someone from the community, beside them–not so much to speak, but to support. Others spoke too, on behalf of both, and the “trial” went on for hours as they did.

In the end, the local grocer stood up and offered these two men work so that they could afford to repay the woman for the hours she lost at work and to pay for her transportation to school while her car was being repaired.  Additionally, the local mechanic offered his services so that only the parts would be charged.

There were more voices in this story, and I may have mistaken some of the details, but what I remember most was what happened after the “trial.” The men were asked to stand on what might be a town green, and the community members each circled past them offering praise for their restitution. No one spat or cursed or otherwise separated these men from the community in which they belonged.

How would the Maori deal with murder, I wonder?  What acts of restitution would arise from the mouths of the community?  For surely Richard, despite his abhorrent act, still belongs.

Kelly Salasin, August 14, 2011

for more on the Brattleboro Co-op Tragedy, click here

12 thoughts on “JUSTICE

  1. It’s interesting because I keep feeling an ache for how broken Richard has become. Whatever satisfaction he had at the height of his vengeance was surely momentary and gone in the length of a breath. I cannot hate him because I remember him not as an angry, hate-filled man but as an extremely gentle and helpful being. I find myself asking, what must have been happening to him cumulatively that created this last straw? Where was the open dialog within the coop to air grievances among the staff.
    He made his choice. No one forced him to take a life. That resides completely with Richard. But I cannot hate him for it.


  2. This man was given the proper, standard HR protocol notice that his workplace behavior and attitude required attention. In the six month time period he was given to address his “creating a hostile work environment,” he could’ve dealt with and resolved the problem, found another job, or any number of other things.

    Instead, he just grew more ego-wounded and enraged until he lost his mind and committed an atrocity.

    In my opinion, there are some crimes that are beyond the reach of the community to mediate. This is one of them. Unless Mr. Gagnon can raise the dead, there’s no way he can truly take responsibility for his crime. He chose to cross that line last Tuesday morning.


    1. I hope that’s not true, but it will take much more creativity than we typically muster as a culture when someone has committed a crime. Norway may have something to teach us.


  3. I don’t know if you knew Richard but to think that this work evaluation alone was enough to create his response and course of action would be incorrect. Michael Martin’s style of management was disliked by most of the coop staff. The only person above Michael was Alex, the general manager. Was Alex open and available to hear peoples deep anger about Michael? And I do not mean just Richard’s, because there are many employees who had strong feelings. The community feeling of the coop changed significantly when Michael was hired. I felt it as a working member. This tragedy has in it an opportunity and the necessity for the staff and management of the coop to create a space for its employees to openly speak without fear of reprisal or judgement. The coop is unique in that it is a business yet strives to be community centered and is situated in an area that is all about community.
    Alex and the board of directors, your leadership is essential at this time.


  4. I didn’t know either men, but if Martin was a lousy manager, I can’t imagine that those above him weren’t aware of it. He should’ve not remained manager if he didn’t have the support of his staff. Perhaps those in a position to get rid of him were too passive to deal with the problem. That said, how he was as a manager is beside the point. Not even the worst manager in the world deserves to die for it.

    But I agree that a poor work evaluation wasn’t the cause of this killing. In fact, ultimately it probably has nothing at all to do with it. Rather, this was the action of a deeply wounded, traumatized, enraged, out-of-control individual, as Kelly suggested in an earlier post. Gagnon’s murderous rage has very little to do with Michael Martin or his poor management style.

    I have also heard that the management at the co-op has not been wonderful. In fact, I often sense that people there are not happy when I shop there (as I will tonight for the first time since the killing). There’s often a strange, very negative vibe and it’s not good. I’m also a member at the River Valley Market, and I have to say that the energy there is *much* more positive and healthy.

    I hope the co-op makes getting the right people the highest priority. Perhaps it’s time for new people starting from the top down.


    1. I’ve never thought that getting “rid” of people was the healthiest strategy. Wasn’t that Richard’s goal? Isn’t that what we do whenever we put “undesirables” in a nursing home or a mental institution or a prison?

      I’ve learned that a manager is responsible for bringing the best out of her team. If there are unhealthy conditions or practices at “our” Co-op, I’d like to see us find ways to make it better–for all.

      As a previous part-timer at BFC, one of my pet peeves was the staff room and the back office spaces which I found depressing–dark and airless. I trust our new building will have more to offer.

      As our Co-op grows in customers and size, of course the intimacy that was once felt will change. The same is true in every organization. And while it is a certainly a loss, it is also an opportunity.

      I’m proud of our Co-op, and how it’s grown; and I always feel welcomed and served there; but I feel that way in France too; while so many others complain otherwise.


      1. “As a previous part-timer at BFC, one of my pet peeves was the staff room and the back office spaces which I found depressing–dark and airless. I trust our new building will have more to offer.”

        I think the physical space of any place has a huge influence on the psyches of those who work there. I’ve never been in the back office space at the co-op but that whole building is kinda ‘blech.’ I think when the new building opens and they demo the old one, the whole vibe will change for the better.


  5. I agree. I wonder if you would consider copying your last response and putting it in the board of directors box which is near the customer service desk. The negativity you experience, if they are unaware of it, needs to be brought to their attention. I experience it as well.


    1. That’s a great idea. I will do that.

      What’s strange is it’s not that people there are rude or anything. In fact, I really love the people there. They’re very friendly and helpful. It’s that it feels to me like some just don’t want to be there, if that makes any sense.

      In any case, I think having a beautiful new store in a new building could go along way in the co-op reinventing itself. Personally, I can’t wait till the grand opening.


  6. “I’ve never thought that getting “rid” of people was the healthiest strategy. Wasn’t that Richard’s goal?”

    Kelly-if you would like to talk with me further about this I would be willing. The picture is very complex.



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