On My Block Makes the Case for Restorative Justice

In the final season of Netflix’s teen hit, On My Block, there’s a scene where one of the leads, Ruby, goes to confront the kid who shot him. In the visiting room at the jail, Ruby starts off nervous and quiet but he eventually finds his voice, declaring, “Now that I’m here looking at you, I’m realizing you were just a kid. A kid who made a mistake. You don’t have power over me, not anymore.” And Latrelle responds, “You think I wanted that power? I didn’t ask for this sh*t. I didn’t ask for any of this.”

The whole scene is a surprise — we don’t know what Ruby is up to until he gets there. And it just gets more surprising: there’s a jump after those lines, and the next time we see Ruby and Latrelle, they’re joking and sharing a soda. It turns out they were friends not that long ago. Ruby even went to his future assailant’s birthday party. The encounter ends with Ruby asking if there’s anything he can do. Latrelle responds by asking, “Can you keep me from turning 18?” Juvie is ending and a harsher future awaits.

It’s a heartbreaking sequence and one only made more so by how truthful it feels. Latrelle is both the villain and the victim here, a layer of complexity that mirrors real life. And while many violent shows offer a wish-fulfillment version of justice, with righteous vengeance enacted by wronged heroes or the powers that be, there’s nothing approaching it here. Ruby can’t find peace by enacting violence of his own or even saving Latrelle. Indeed, the system just compounds Ruby’s powerlessness — he doesn’t have a say in what should happen to the boy who shot him.

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