Hillary’s Values: seeking criminal justice reform

Hillary’s Values: seeking criminal justice reform April 30, 2015

This week, like me, I’m sure you prayed for peace and healing in Baltimore. Amidst the pain and suffering, the hatred and illegal acts, it was challenging to process the destruction and looting in a great American city while simultaneously wanting to acknowledge their rightful frustration.

Photo and Link to coverage of Hillary Clinton's criminal justice reform talk from New York Times.
Photo and Link to coverage of Hillary Clinton’s criminal justice reform talk from New York Times.

After Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and now, very likely, Freddie Gray it’s abundantly clear – and has been for years – there is a need for significant law enforcement and community policing reforms. And so, Wednesday, when everyone said something should be done, and when everyone asked what could be done – the same questions after every other death – Hillary Clinton stepped to the podium. (Full Text here.)

“We have allowed our criminal justice system to get out of balance. And these recent tragedies should galvanize us to come together as a nation to find our balance again,” Clinton said at Columbia University Wednesday. “We must urgently begin to rebuild the bonds of trust and respect among Americans. Between police and citizens, yes, but also across society.”

This pain is not going away. It may subside, but fundamental problems exist in a society where 1 in every 28 children has a parent incarcerated, as the United States spends $80 billion on prisons, she said. And, in an unexpected move, she challenged policies lobbied during her husband’s presidency to lock up more of our brothers and sisters, to create mandatory minimums and three-strike laws because this spending is out of control, and the antithesis of what it means to be the greatest nation.

“It truly is about how we treat each other and what we value. Making it possible for every American to reach his or her God-given potential—regardless of who you are, where you were born, or who you love,” Clinton said.

This was not billed, marketed or prepped as a major policy talk, but simply as a necessary conversation from a proven leader. It was a conversation starter that needed to happen by someone other than our current President.

Others and I are moved by her message and vision when so few answers exist to complicated problems, and I had the privilege of speaking with Burns StriderHillary’s friend who has served her as a senior advisor and head of her faith outreach. He now runs the pro-Hillary group, Correct the Record.

I asked why, when so many Republican candidates wear their love of Christ and literal interpretation of the Bible on their sleeves, why does Clinton not do the same in a speech riddled with Christian values?

“Perhaps Hillary doesn’t preach her faith with words, but, rather, with her deeds as St. Francis admonished us all to do,” Strider said. “Hillary’s care for the poor and the working folks, her passion for a society that takes care of the sick and fosters an environment that is civil and equitable is grounded in faith.”

Recently, Strider wrote about Hillary’s faith when she consoled him after his mother died in 2012. Despite her seemingly non-stop schedule as Secretary of State, she found time to help him grieve and make sense of the loss. In his writing, Strider spoke about Hillary’s wise words on community, both with family and neighbors.

Hillary Clinton reminds us that community is essential, and holds in esteem even the widow and her mite. Secretary Clinton shows us, through example, that community takes effort. She doesn’t just do this between the covers of a book, but also in her actions and determination to build an American community that works for everyone. Or, as I said at mama’s eulogy: ‘A life lived for others is a life worthwhile. And a life lived for others creates community.’”

Hillary is making a call to action for every American. How will we take responsibility for the society we want to live in? I want to follow her because I want to be in the America she envisions with better public schools, prime economic opportunities for workers in every neighborhood and prison reforms that rehabilitate rather than throw away the key.

Joseph Gidjunis is the former Director of the Young Democrats of America Faith & Values Initiative and an award-winning photojournalist who owns JPG Photography in Philadelphia. He serves as a remote fellow for Eleison. He is married with two wonderful dogs.

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