This is a column by Charlie Harper, an Atlanta-based public policy expert and a longtime contributor.
Five or so years ago I attended a one-day session in Washington DC hosted by FreedomWorks. The libertarian leaning conservative advocacy group brought together a couple dozen writers and grassroots leaders to discuss the topic of criminal justice reform.
What still strikes me most about the day was the uniqueness of the afternoon session. We left the FreedomWorks conference room and went down the street to the offices of the Center for American Progress. CAP can be considered about as far left down the spectrum as FreedomWorks is on the right.
It wasn’t that long ago that working across the ideological divide on issues was considered common. It actually still happens regularly, in Washington, Atlanta, and in local counties and cities. It’s how routine issues and even occasionally some much bigger problems get solved.
More from Charlie Harper: Economic literacy is at a low in America. Political leaders will exploit that ignorance.
Where it doesn’t happen is on cable news and in other forms of entertainment that mask as parts of the political process. Too many have learned that enraging “the base” makes for a good business model.
The common ground the members of the left and right found that day on criminal justice reform was that we had to understand that violent criminals needed to be punished, but those committing singular minor offenses needed a full pathway back into American citizenship and worker productivity.
It just so happened at that time that Georgia had been a leader in this issue for several years, allowing me to engage in translating talking points between the left and the right. It continues to surprise many that a “bright red” state had taken the lead when “tough on crime” slogans are a better sell to the GOP base.
Unfortunately, too many running with the banner of criminal justice reform have continued to expand their efforts without remembering the basic compact that violent criminals must be held accountable and society must be protected from them. Municipalities have begun eliminating bail bonds and have created revolving doors at our police stations and our courts.
More from Charlie Harper: Cargo ships stuck at Port of Savannah a symptom of more complex problems in supply chain
Last week an organized ring of approximately 80 people descended on a Nordstrom store in Walnut Creek California, an upscale suburb of San Francisco. Two store employees were maced while a flash mob looting occurred.
I thought this was a one-off California kind of thing until I watched the CEO of Best Buy detail her quarterly earnings report on CNBC a few days later. Despite beating estimates for both revenue and profit, the stock got hammered after releasing earnings because margins were squeezed. The reason for the increasing cost of doing business that stood out was “shrink”, or loss of inventory. The CEO sounded the alarm that “across retail”, organized mobs that steal inventory are a problem both for store owners as well as increasing anxiety among store employees.
It’s easy to see that justice delayed, as it was by the original D.A. in the Ahmaud Arbery case, causes a loss in faith in the judicial system. It should be just as plain to see that those who are supposed to be enforcing laws on theft but ignore them, and judges that routinely establish bail policies equivalent to a revolving door at the courthouse are doing the same.
Last week Darrel Brooks fled a domestic dispute and killed at least six people during a Christmas parade in Waukesha Wisconsin. He had been set free on bail just days earlier facing five counts including battery and domestic abuse. The D.A. in his case called the bail recommendation “inappropriately low”.
There are still many of us considered on the conservative side of the political spectrum willing to fight for criminal justice reform. For that discussion to have any hope of continuing, we’re going to need to hear more voices demanding that laws on the books actually be enforced, and the concept of justice include holding those who commit violent crimes be held accountable.
This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Justice system reform does not have to be as partisan as you think