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To eliminate injustices, look to America’s foundational ideals and our shared beliefs

We need a diversity of perspectives — individuals willing to be candid with each other and to challenge their own assumptions — to find innovative solutions to the problems confronting policing and criminal justice reform.

A protester holds a flag during a demonstration
REUTERS/Caitlin Ochs

America’s principles are our strength. It’s time to live up to them.

Healing and making progress on needed reforms in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer begins with listening to one another so we can work together for change.

But we must move beyond the rhetoric to get to the real. For us, that includes the reality that we come at today’s challenges from very different places. One of us is the founder of Urban Specialists and the first gang specialist hired by Texas to negotiate peace among gang members in youth prisons. The other is senior vice president of Stand Together and a former prison guard.

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But what we have in common far outweighs our differences.

Look what happened when about 400 people came together in Dallas last month when we kicked off what we’re calling the Heal America Tour. The participants brought radically different experiences and viewpoints. We all started from the shared belief that the source of America’s strength — its principle of liberty and justice for all — is also the solution to its problems. Then we talked, and listened, and heard.

Omar Jahwar
Omar Jahwar
Now, at the invitation of the African American Leadership Council and other community and spiritual leaders, we are coming to Minneapolis’ Shiloh Temple tonight (July 29) to listen and talk with them, law enforcement, and business leaders. The goal is to define a call to action that examines racial injustices across society and elevates viable solutions to improve police interactions in communities and beyond.

Gatherings like this force uncomfortable conversations. And discomfort is part of the point. In no other way can we get to the heart of the matter and address the gap between the ideals and the reality. We do that by working to discover what we fiercely agree on and what we believe in.

Mark Holden
Mark Holden
We believe everyone is entitled to equal treatment based on his or her own conduct. This applies regardless of skin color or the uniform they wear.

We believe that as with any endeavor, some police officers, prosecutors, judges, and corrections officers honor their oaths of office and some do not.

We agree with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and that when injustices hold people back, America is the worse for it. The recent tragedies highlight how, when racism becomes institutionalized, public policies disproportionately harm minority communities — with or without an intent to discriminate on the part of those enforcing the law.

Eliminating these injustices requires us to fully embrace our country’s foundational ideals of equal justice, inclusion, and empowerment, which have always been central to our progress as a people.

These shared beliefs are critical. Once people find common concerns, the “exhausted majority” who are not on either extreme can work to fix them.

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We have seen the power of people connecting to each other’s personal experiences and how that helped them discover common concerns and figure out how to work together. And we have experienced it ourselves.

And right now we need a diversity of perspectives — individuals willing to be candid with each other and to challenge their own assumptions — to find innovative solutions to the problems confronting policing and criminal justice reform. Now it is up to each of us to make a difference in the urgent pursuit of equal justice and unite around the principles that will drive progress toward meaningful reform.

Omar Jahwar is founder of Urban Specialists and leads “Course Correction Conversations” for Stand Together, to bring diverse groups of people together to address injustice and heal after tragedy. Mark Holden, a longtime advocate for criminal justice reform, is senior vice president of Stand Together.


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