In 1968 Richard Nixon famously said that this is a “Nation of Laws”. But this is not a “Nation of Laws”. This is a nation of PEOPLE endowed with inalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The laws exist only to ensure that those rights are protected. When the effect of a law is to threaten the Liberty and very Lives of the people then we have crossed a divide that should never be crossed. When we put our police officers into the position of enforcing unenforceable laws against an unwilling population we set them up for failure, loss of trust, and an adversarial relationship between the police and the people that they are sworn to protect.
The problem doesn’t begin with the police. They are just enforcing the laws that the legislature has handed them. Jim Hughes prides himself as the “Law and Order” candidate and has sponsored numerous bills that are “tough on crime”. He favors bills requiring mandatory jail time. This type of law ties the hands of judges who should be able to rule on cases based on their individual merit. Instead, people are indiscriminately sent to prison for extended periods for sometimes minor infractions. By criminalizing lifestyle choices and targeting enforcement efforts at low-income communities we have ended up with a large and disproportionate prison population and disenfranchised an entire segment of the community.
The laws that we write and the transformation of the police force to a “Law Enforcement” force has shifted the focus of police work from serving and protecting the population to a function of looking for reasons to arrest people. This has led to random stops, harassment, excessive use of force, and violation of the civil rights of innocent people. Jim Hughes sees the world through the lens of the law, through the lens of crime and punishment. I see the world through the lens of health care and look for causes and cures. We both agree on one thing, that people who are a danger to society should be segregated, quarantined, for the protection of our families and neighborhoods. But I am more interested in healing than punishing. I am interested finding ways to keep fathers with their families and sons with their mothers when possible. When we can find money to put a police officer in every school but can’t find money for nurses and guidance counselors we have gone too far.
If elected I would look at each law before me to consider whether it protects rights or whether it serves to further divide the country and enslave an even larger portion of the population. I would look to the police to help craft laws that are enforceable and place them on the same side as the people they are sworn to protect. I will work with communities of color to ensure that the laws do not disproportionately place them in the cross hairs of overly aggressive police tactics and use them as fodder for the prison industry. I will work to re-imagine our prisons as places to heal and prepare inmates for a successful return to society.
Then we can begin to heal the wounds of the past 50 years.