Buss: Police reform should be conservative cause

Kaitlyn Buss
The Detroit News

The rift between law enforcement and the African-American community is growing wider by the day, and police misconduct and the Black Lives Matter movement are almost kitchen table topics.

But for the Republican Party, it seems like the shootings against police have happened in a complete and utter void.

With the whole world watching at this week’s Republican National Convention in Cleveland, the party is unwilling to do two things at once: Rightly mourn the loss of innocent police officers, while also trying to understand the feelings of the African-American community that feels victimized by law enforcement and an often unfair criminal justice system.

Murderous rampages against innocent police officers like those in Dallas and Baton Rouge make the task harder.

But the deaths of those nine officers should further illuminate, not eclipse, the underlying issues driving this wedge. They should encourage conservatives to dive deep into these issues.

Reforming police tactics and training — insisting on the preservation of life and the constitutional presumption of innocence before guilt — should be conservative causes.

Equality under the law and equal treatment in the criminal justice system — bedrocks of the Constitution conservatives revere — should be, too.

It wasn’t always this way. The GOP has made huge strides over the past decade pushing state-level reforms in the criminal justice system.

The Right on Crime movement, which started by making changes to prison sentencing in the traditionally aggressive criminal justice system in Texas, took hold in many other states.

Michigan’s GOP-led Legislature began reforming sentencing guidelines and encouraging rehabilitation this past session. The state even passed laws to make its civil asset forfeiture program more transparent, and to make it more difficult for police to simply take citizens’ property.

In the past decade, the majority of states — many of them Red states — have passed criminal justice reform measures.

But lately, at a time when conservative criminal justice and sentencing reform efforts should be reaching their heyday, it feels that movement has vanished. And when it comes to reforming police tactics, officer training, and improving community relations between law enforcement and African-Americans, the party has turned a blind eye.

During its debut night in Cleveland this week, the theme was Make America Safe Again. It included several pronouncements that “Blue Lives Matter.”

Yes, blue lives matter. But, as has been a common refrain, all lives matter. Competing with Black Lives Matter stokes two separate camps rather than preventing a race war.

Black leaders — including, recently, Dallas Police Chief David Brown, Dallas surgeon Brian Williams and Sen. Tim Scott, an African-American Republican senator from South Carolina — have meaningfully discussed what it’s like to be a black man in society.

Their honesty is worth listening to. They’ve been discriminated against. They’ve feared law enforcement, or at least certainly seen both sides of the coin.

And their stories are reflected in data.

Black Americans are two and a half times more likely than white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers; unarmed black Americans are five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer, according to the Washington Post, which has conducted a comprehensive study of police shootings over the past year.

But those fears, and the racism they foster, were not even acknowledged during the Republican convention’s safety night.

The GOP is understandably focused on threats to Americans’ safety. But if it wants to be the law and order party, it also has to be the criminal justice reform party. It must preserve the lives of those in blue and those who are black. There’s room for both.


Twitter: @KaitlynBuss