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Bridging divides, not hiding in corners: Justice reform for all Americans

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Criminal justice reform is an issue that conservatives and liberals can work on together. Many millennials feel that the justice system is unfair, too costly, and broken. Recent police shootings — both of officers and by officers — should challenge us to restore trust between our police departments and our communities. We should use this issue not to divide us, but to unify ourselves around justice for all.

It seems like the issue pops up in the news all the time. Just yesterday, a 23-year-old black woman Korryn Gaines was fatally shot in a standoff with police in her Baltimore apartment. Details are still being revealed, and while police may have been justified in this case, it reignited national outrage among many anti-police protestors.

The other recent police shootings of two African-American men — Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile near St. Paul, followed by the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, reopened important debates over police brutality and distrust between our police officers and many African-Americans.

Let me begin by saying that any violence against police officers is wrong. No matter how some may feel about racial bias among a few cops, violence is never the answer. The vast majority of our cops are honorable men and women who wake up every day, risking their lives for all of us, not knowing if that day will be their last. Most are well-trained and discreet in their use of force. Any reforms to our criminal justice system should not forget that the majority of our police officers want to do right.

Too often, liberals and conservatives, in the aftermath of these cases of violence, rush to their corners instead of engaging in thoughtful dialogue. Too many liberals immediately tend to blame the cop in every situation, ignoring deep problems in the black community — family breakdown and failing schools. Likewise, too many conservatives immediately jump to defend the police in these cases, ignoring deep problems in our justice system tilted against African-Americans, the cost of the War on Drugs, and too much excessive and lethal force by police.

There are great ideas on how to reform our police departments and our communities. Conservatives have boldly tried to reduce the influence of public sector unions, particularly teacher unions. Just as teachers unions protect bad teachers from getting fired, police unions do the same with bad cops. And conservatives should lead the way in taking on police unions by fighting for better public records laws to keep police departments accountable. We need to increase the use of body cameras for police officers. This will further transparency, protect cops, and reduce excessive force by cops and make it easier to get indictments of officers that do wrong.

We should reduce sentences for non-violent crimes. This is inherently conservative as it would reduce the cost of prisons in America. Blacks are stopped more and convicted for drug crimes at a higher rate than whites even though the drug use rate is equal among whites and blacks. This leads many African-Americans to distrust the justice system and therefore, in police. Restoring trust between our police and the black community should start with common-sense sentencing reform.

Likewise, liberals must acknowledge the role that family breakdown and failing schools play in this crisis. Young people (but particularly men) who are cheated out the opportunity of a quality education are more likely to feel left out of the American promise. They are more likely to see life as not as worthy as it should be and so, are more likely to commit crimes at a younger age. We need to fight for school choice not only to improve education, but to reduce crime. Studies have shown that children of broken families are more likely to commit crime. While government certainly does not have all the answers here, our community leaders, churches, charities, etc. should teach the value of marriage and family.

I hope we can all be voices that bring us together, rather than rip us apart. Our nation, both our cops and the communities they serve and protect, deserve it.

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