Tags: George Floyd Protests | death penalty | criminal justice

If We Were the Country We Claimed to Be

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By Thursday, 18 June 2020 01:25 PM Current | Bio | Archive

I want to paint for you the picture of a little girl who loved America with all her might. My mother read me biographies of our founders and said my eyes welled up with tears when "The Star-Spangled Banner" played. To me, the story of America has always been the greatest one ever told.

Our history represented something extraordinary: a wrench thrown deep into the gears of society, reversing the march of time towards the powerful and the collective. An underdog country that staked its claim on the belief that all men were created equal and endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We were a match that struck against oppression and lit the world on fire with this notion.

Nowhere were these values supposed to be more visible than in our criminal justice system. Our system was structured on the revolutionary stance that it is better to let 10 guilty men go free rather than mistakenly sentence one innocent person to perish. We balanced history's scales of injustice by enshrining the individual's rights to privacy, representation and due process. Our people were presumed innocent until guilt was proven beyond the shadow of a doubt and our set of checks and balances ensured a rigorous review of the decisions made by our government to identify errors or corruption.

Or so I was told.

I, like so many others, really thought we meant it when we said we believed in the sanctity of human life, individual liberty and limited government. So, imagine the crushing, bitter disappointment I've felt in recent years as I have increasingly woken up from the American Dream.

Far from being a beacon on a shining hill, our justice system is a blight on our nation and makes a mockery of our ideals. The right to privacy has been eviscerated by our politicians. Not only does the government spy on us, they issue no-knock warrants with little evidence. Breonna Taylor, shot to death in her bed by Louisville police only last month, is one of countless people who have died because of this particular violation of rights.

We have all but dispensed with the notion of a fair trial, with 95% of all cases resulting in a plea deal. And the guarantee of representation has only ever been loosely upheld. Even worse, many of our fellow citizens are murdered in the streets by law enforcement before even being charged with a crime, as we witnessed with the horrific death of George Floyd in late May.

Far from the premise our system was supposed to be built around — that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than one innocent person to perish — we instead find thousands of people wrongfully convicted, often languishing in our prisons as the system works to uphold itself instead of bringing new evidence to light. Our country continues to carry out the death penalty, even as one person has been exonerated for every nine executions. And compounding all of this is the pervasive, systematic racial bias that courses throughout the application and enforcement of our laws.

We are so far away from being who we say we are, but I still fanatically believe in that identity.

The world needs us to live up to our ideals, and so do our people. Lives literally depend on it.

In order for that to happen, though, we have to become a culture that truly values human life, all human life. Despite a large and vociferous "pro-life" movement, there is no consistent, organized movement that stands for life from birth all the way through death or that puts its beliefs into action. Real change requires the difficult work of changing hearts and minds, not just laws. If those who claim they are pro-life hope to gain ground, we must become consistent in this stance and do that difficult work.

Furthermore, the American people must continue to band together in unity and demand broad, structural change that restores our rights, addresses racial bias and protects innocence. If we do not achieve this, I fear the greatest experiment ever known to man will combust.

In the United States, we have always struggled to live up to the ideals on which we were founded and our guarantee of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness has often not been extended to all people. The original sin of slavery continues to haunt our history and our legal codes. Our treatment of Native Americans flew glaringly in the face of our principles. We've failed to be who we say we are many times. But what makes us exceptional is that we continue to strive towards these beliefs with the resilience and the grit of the American spirit.

I'm still fighting for the America I thought existed in my childhood and my dream is I will live to see it in my lifetime.

Hannah Cox is the National Manager of Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty. Hannah was previously Director of Outreach for the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a free-market think tank. Prior to that, she was Director of Development for the Tennessee Firearms Association and a policy advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read Hannah Cox's Reports — More Here.

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Nowhere were these values supposed to be more visible than in our criminal justice system.
death penalty, criminal justice
Thursday, 18 June 2020 01:25 PM
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