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Op-ed Placement

Americans Must Not Dehumanize Each Other As We Work for Justice

09/01/2020
Originally Published in The Hill on 9/1/20.

Protests in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor are certainly understandable. The anger and frustration is real, but intimidation, looting, and violence are not acceptable nor 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. The scene should be prompting mob protesters, as well as Democrats who have encouraged these confrontations, to reconsider their tactics.

Republican Senator Rand Paul and his wife Kelley were surrounded by protesters, some of whom were shouting “say her name,” 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 policing reform in Congress than Paul. His wife Kelley is also an advocate for these reforms, publicly and privately working for the passage of the First Step Act in 2018.

Take no knock raids. Paul introduced the Justice for Breonna Taylor Act, to prohibit no knock raids and require law enforcement to knock and announce when serving a warrant. “After talking with Breonna Taylor’s family, I have come to the conclusion that it is past time to get rid of no knock warrants,” Paul said when the bill was introduced in June. “This bill will effectively end no knock raids in the United States.” His advocacy for criminal justice and policing reform does not end with this one bill.

He was instrumental in the passage of the First Step Act, which, in addition to prison reforms, offered modest sentencing reforms. In this session of Congress alone, Paul has introduced the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act. This legislation would limit a Defense Department program that allows for 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 disproportionately impacts poor and minority communities. He has also introduced the Justice Safety Valve Act to allow judges to use their discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences.

None of these bills are new for Paul. He has introduced them in previous years. He also worked with Democratic Senator Kamala Harris on legislation in 2017 to incentivize states to move away from cash bail. Paul said the bill would “will help strengthen protections for minority and low income defendants, reduce waste, and move our bail system toward more effective methods, such as individualized risk-based assessments.”

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

These tactics, which we have seen over the last few months, are not productive. Those who are resorting to these tactics are allowing people to retreat to their partisan corners when we should be having meaningful conversations about race, policing, and criminal justice, as well as the underlying issues of addiction, the lack of economic opportunities in too many communities, and an education system that fails too many students.

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. 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, particularly at the state and local levels where policing policies are ultimately determined. But we will not be able have these conversations while we are shouting at each other.

*Jason Pye is the vice president for legislative affairs with FreedomWorks. *