Vicky Hartzler: Give law enforcement tools for safe streets

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Rep. Vicky Hartzler

It is time for Congress to give our law enforcement officials the appropriate tools and resources they need to help us secure the promise of a safe community. America never hides in fear in the face of social and political turbulence. Instead, America always rises safer, stronger and freer. That’s the American way, and I vow to fight for it always.

As a mother and a former teacher, I know firsthand that having a strong, stable and safe community is vital to the next generation of Americans. Our young people depend on communities free of destruction and violence, with more economic opportunities and a healthier, more productive lifestyle. We must forcefully reject the destruction, looting and violence in America’s neighborhoods while restoring a strong relationship between law enforcement officials and the communities they serve.

The first step in restoring law and order is to establish clear, punitive consequences for those who incite violence and riots in any capacity — from organizing and promoting a riot to participating or assisting those who do. The David Dorn Act of 2020 does exactly that. This bill increases the maximum imprisonment penalty for rioting to 10 years and the minimum fine to $1,000, sending a clear message to rioters that there must be consequences for deliberately hijacking peaceful protests and threatening the potential for peace and prosperity in any community.

Not only do senseless crime, riots and looting create a dangerous, destabilizing environment for the people living in these communities — this unrest also comes at a significant cost that only furthers the structural insecurity and cyclical poverty in our cities. In Minneapolis alone, violent riots and destructive actions have cost hundreds of small business owners and city residents more than an estimated $500 million. Victims of these riots also face additional costs nearly impossible to measure, including traumatic mental health effects.

Safety and order help foster secure environments for businesses to invest and have access to capital to open shops and restaurants, creating good, stable jobs in the community. With better trained and equipped law enforcement, people are more inclined to focus on their education and engage in community activities to help others who are struggling. Safety invigorates a community’s culture and an important sense of pride that helps drive people forward. A safe community, at its core, is what America has always been about — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Equally important to protecting safety in every community is ensuring all Americans have a continued sense of trust and respect for our law enforcement officials. This includes strengthening the bond between our police and the communities they protect. The vast majority of law enforcement officials are unsung heroes — good, courageous and selfless public servants who protect our way of life. But today, there are still many Americans across the nation who have an eroded sense of confidence in our communities’ institutions. This unfortunate reality underscores why we must come together to forge a new path of unity and purpose for our nation by addressing every injustice, while still acknowledging the positive and equitable actions carried out each day by law enforcement.

Recognizing this, I joined my congressional colleagues Rep. Pete Stauber of Minnesota and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina in supporting H.R. 7278, the JUSTICE Act. This legislation would provide greater transparency and needed police reform to help ensure positive, fair policing while working to keep our communities safe. These reforms include increasing penalties for falsifying police reports, more deescalation training, and helping local departments in hiring officers who more closely represent the communities they serve. These efforts build on the foundation of needed criminal justice reform built in the last couple of years, such as President Donald Trump’s signing of the bipartisan First Step Act, authorizing $75 million every year to provide criminals with a second chance through rehabilitative programs and fair sentencing.

The path toward driving our communities and our country forward is crystal clear. In the wake of an unprecedented national emergency, an already ubiquitous feeling of uncertainty has been met with civil unrest, leaving many of us feeling unsafe and left behind. That is why it is critical, now more than ever, to bring this country back to its core principles of protecting life, cherishing liberty and preserving the pursuit of happiness. America does not shrink in fear of adversity; America perseveres in faith and love.

We must work to renew, restore and rebuild that American way. It is essential to ensure that the next generation has a fighting chance to continue writing the greatest social and political experiment in history — the American story.

Republican Vicky Hartzler represents Missouri’s 4th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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