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Americans must not dehumanize each other as we work for justice

Americans must not dehumanize each other as we work for justice
© Greg Nash

Protests over the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are justified. The anger and frustration is certainly real, but intimidation and violence are not acceptable or constructive ways of expressing this. The scene of mobs surrounding politicians as they were leaving the White House after President Trump accepted the Republican nomination was disgusting. It should force mob protesters, and the Democrats who have encouraged the confrontations, to rethink the use of such tactics.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and his wife were recently surrounded by protesters, some of whom were shouting “say her name” in a reference to Breonna Taylor, who was killed by law enforcement during a no knock raid in Louisville. This is irony at its worst. There are few, if any, who have done more to advance criminal justice and police reforms in government than Paul. His wife is also an advocate for these national reforms, publicly and privately working for the success of the First Step Act.

Take no knock raids. Paul introduced the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, to ban no knock raids and to mandate law enforcement officers to announce when they serve any warrant. “After talking with her family, I have come to the conclusion that it is past time to get rid of no knock warrants,” he said when the legislation was introduced in June. “This bill will effectively end no knock raids in the United States.” His advocacy for criminal justice and police reforms does not end with this one legislation.

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He was instrumental with the First Step Act, which offered prison reforms and sentencing reforms. In this session of Congress, Paul has introduced the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act to limit the Pentagon program that allows the sale or transfer of surplus equipment to law enforcement. He introduced the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act to overhaul civil asset forfeiture law, which impacts poor and minority Americans. He introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act to allow judges to use discretion to depart from the harsh mandatory minimum sentences.

None of these bills are new for Paul. He has introduced each of them over previous years. He also worked with Democratic Senator Kamala Harris on legislation to incentivize states to move away from cash bail. Paul said the bipartisan bill would “strengthen protections for minority and low income defendants, decrease waste, and move our cash bail system toward more effective methods, such as individualized risk assessments.”

Paul was not the only politician surrounded by the mob after leaving the White House, although the one that surrounded Paul and his wife was the most perplexing. But this is what occurs when we all resort to looking at people by their party affiliation or ideological views and ignore their own individuality. We regard those who do not see the world in the same way as our enemies. This allows us to dehumanize each other.

Such mob tactics, which we have seen over the last few months, are not productive. People who use these tactics force people to retreat to their partisan corners when we should instead be having critical conversations about race, police, and criminal justice, as well as the underlying issues of addiction and mental health, the lack of economic opportunities in many communities, and an education system that fails many kids.

Anyone who thought that criminal justice issues were put to rest with the passage of the First Step Act was wrong. The short title of the law says it all in that it was only the first step. There are other issues that we need to address. We need to have these conversations at all levels of government, most notably at the state and local levels where police rules are ultimately determined. But we will not be able to have these conversations and work toward effective reforms while we are shouting at each other.

Jason Pye is the vice president for legislative affairs with Freedom Works.