For 9 years I proudly served as a communications consultant within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, with a large part of my job working alongside local police from across the country. I learned a lot and had plenty of fun with law enforcement officers in places such as Stockton (California), New York City, Kearney (Nebraska), Birmingham (Alabama), and Seattle/King County (Washington).
But long before that, I spent time on the other side of law enforcement. As a teenager I got into a lot of trouble, committing serious enough crimes to have warrants out for my arrest, and eventually serving four months in county jail in Florida during 1999/2000.
While in county jail, I was treated nicely, assigned a responsive public defender, and was quickly offered a plea deal to remove the felony I was facing without even having to ask for it – no strings attached. As a white kid from the middle-class suburbs, I thought that was normal.
However, I also saw so many of my fellow inmates who were in for far less severe crimes than I was be assigned public defenders who never met with them, frequently had the system “lose” or delay their paperwork, and were harshly charged with maximum sentences instead of offered any kind of plea deal. The vast, overwhelming majority of these inmates were black or other people of color.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but that was the start of my realizing the need for major criminal justice reform in our country and the start of becoming libertarian. It would take me a few more years, but I became an advocate for reversing minimum sentencing laws, abolishing cash bail, ending Qualified Immunity, providing better mental health crisis support, and undoing our clearly racist drug laws.
Instead, we must redirect the time, money, and effort of our local police away from victimless incidents towards the actual crimes in our community: sexual assaults, gun and knife violence, domestic abuse, reckless driving, robberies, and burglaries.
Advancing police reform isn’t about “hating the police” – it’s about building a community police force for the modern era. If we’re good enough at it, we can even step up to be role models for the rest of the nation on how police can both protect the public’s safety and its civil liberties.