Around the Institute

The Challenge of Violence in America

July 1, 2015  • Tripp Brockway, Guest Blogger

“To be America the Beautiful we have to make sure that all lives matter.” Ron Davis, father to the late Jordan Davis and CEO of the Jordan Davis Foundation

The inspirational, determined, and brilliant panelists discussing violence and racism in America at the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival did not mince their words. They described the nearly overwhelming scope of the challenge and ensured that no one in the audience underestimated the arduous path ahead to rebuilding trust and restoring peace in American communities. Though the challenge is massive, the speakers instilled hope by bringing compelling solutions and big ideas to the table. 

The scope of the challenge:

Ferguson, MO, organizer and activist Clifton Kinnie placed current race issues into their historical context and articulated the challenge facing the country with his question: 

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu crafted an apt metaphor to help the audience understand the scope of the challenge:

Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of “The Beautiful Struggle” and national correspondent at The Atlantic, described why violence in American communities holds individuals back. 

“If I can’t secure my safety, preserve my physical body, then nothing else matters.” 

Big ideas

There’s no question of the scope of the challenge of ending racism. Landrieu recognized that collective action on a nationwide scale is necessary to solve it. 

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh summarized the need to acknowledge and address structural racism.

Extending far beyond rhetoric, world-class experts in their fields offered specific solutions to begin tackling this challenge. Former Judge Nancy Gertner described her experience sentencing drug offenders in a way that she felt was “unfair and disproportionate.” Her Big Idea is to build a clemency project to help the “victims of the failed war on drugs,” a policy that she believes crippled communities and is a root cause of the violence and distrust in American cities.

Yale law professor Tracey Meares offered additional ways to reduce violence in American communities. She discussed her research into how to build trust between police departments and the communities they are expected to serve. As part of President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, Meares will be putting the results of her research into action. 

This is just the beginning of a national conversation about violence in America that will continue at the Aspen Ideas Festival with additional panels taking critical looks at the criminal justice system, featuring Sen. Cory Booker, Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric, and other experts. By bringing together such an incredible group of people to engage the topic of violence in America, the discussions started and relationships built at the Festival will undoubtedly engender smart solutions to this tough challenge. 

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