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House District 60 candidates discuss criminal justice reform

by Joe Gamm | September 20, 2020 at 5:03 a.m. | Updated September 22, 2020 at 2:41 p.m.

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Neither the Republican candidate, state Rep. Dave Griffith, nor the Democratic candidate, Joshua Dunne, faced challengers during the primary election to be nominees for the Missouri House District 60 seat in the House of Representatives this year.

Griffith won the seat for his first term in 2018.

The men are facing off for the opportunity to serve the district that includes most of Jefferson City, with the exception of the southeastern-most part of the city.

The News Tribune asked the candidates to weigh in with their views on Gov. Mike Parson's efforts this summer toward criminal justice reform, beginning with what challenges they see Missouri's criminal justice system facing.

Criminal justice reform is an issue the Legislature has been working on during the entire two years Griffith has been a member of the chamber, he said.

"Having a meaningful discussion on how we can improve on, and expand, reform is key to good legislation," Griffith said. "I think that the solutions will come, but for them to be effective, we need buy-in from both sides of the aisle. And I truly believe that can happen."

Dunne said the governor's sudden focus on criminal justice this summer was an attempt to distract from his mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Study after study shows that over-policing does not stop crime," Dunne said. "I would welcome a true and valid attempt to address real issues that contribute to increased crime rates, such as aiding people transitioning out of penitentiaries with finding jobs and housing, which has been proven to prevent recidivism or escalation."

Republican policymakers, he said, push ineffective policies while failing to seek any serious solutions.

Asked if legislators may play a part in reducing violence in the state's largest cities, the candidates agree they can.

The Legislature is crucial to reducing violent crime throughout the state, Dunne said. But, to do so, the governor and the legislature must stop using crime rates as "talking points" and stop fostering distrust between rural and urban communities, he said. That has caused people living outside the urban areas to look at them "with fear and distrust."

"(Legislators) must take the lead in stopping this dangerous and dehumanizing way of thinking so we can find solutions that benefit our state and really focus on reducing violence instead of using it as a topic for political gain," Dunne said.

Measures the Legislature takes will be short-term fixes to violence, Griffith said. But long-term solutions are needed, he added.

"Since I have been in the Legislature, I have seen the challenges we face in trying to legislate measures to reduce violence in St. Louis and Kansas City," he said. "I have been an advocate for local control, and when that fails, then and only then should the state step in to curb violence in the streets."

The News Tribune also asked the candidates how the state Legislature can assure supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement that their concerns are being heard.

"I can't speak for the rest of my colleagues, but I can tell you that I believe it begins with conversations and understanding," Griffith said. "I have had some great conversations with my Black constituents and have done my best to listen to their concerns and what their solutions are to the issues they face."

Being white, it is impossible for Griffith to fully understand what they have been through, he said, but people can find common ground through one-on-one discussions or group discussions. He said he is listening and wants to help.

Listening is key, Dunne said. But the Legislature also must avoid using fear, distrust and propaganda to make the Black Lives Matter movement seem dangerous and unworthy.

"De-escalation training should be mandatory and taught during the academy and then refreshed throughout the officer's career," Dunne said. "Qualified immunity should no longer be used to stop families from getting justice against bad actors who use their badge to perpetrate crimes and hurt the communities they are sworn to protect."

Officers must also be empowered to prevent their peers from escalating situations or causing more senseless deaths of unarmed civilians, he said.

"We must have representatives that value human life over political points or political party," Dunne said.

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