NATIONAL HARBOR, MD.- The Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) kicked off today. The topics covered were the standard hot-button issues: abortion, gun rights, feminism, socialism, etc.
However, one topic was present that some might not have expected from a specifically conservative conference: criminal justice reform. Demario Davis, linebacker for the New Orleans Saints, took the stage to discuss the effects of new laws in criminal reform. He says that the system is slowly being taken from being "user friendly" to one that benefits the judges and bail bondsmen.
Davis has experience with the unfairness of the justice system, having spent time in jail during college on a shoplifting charge. For the crime of stealing groceries from a Walmart, Davis found he had a $10,000 bond. While his football coach was able to pay his way, Davis found that there were many others who weren't so lucky.
"When I got to the league [NFL] and started to spend time in the criminal justice reform space," Davis said, "I realized that people are going to jail simply because they can't pay the bill. And they're spending 7, 8 months in jail, sometimes years in jail, without even having a court date because the system is so backed up."
Davis weighed in on the current cash bail legislation trying to make its way into law.
"The people who are fighting against this are the bails bondsmen and the prosecutors: the people who benefit from sending people to jail... They all get paid based on how many people are in jail. How's that going to affect the person standing before the judge?"
A major surprise, however, came with the arrival of Democratic commentator and former lawyer Van Jones, sharing the stage with Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative Union. While Jones has given praise to Trump's prison reform policies in the past, it must've been a surprise for the conservative crowd to see him on stage.
However, Schlapp opened up the conversation with an olive branch.
"Some of you know," he began, addressing the audience, "that I will go on CNN, MSNBC, and I've been on the Bill Maher Show, I went on the View." The audience started booing at these hated names. "And I actually think that's pretty important to do," he said, holding out a hand to calm the irritated crowd, "because it's important for people on the right and on the left to be able to talk to each other in a civil way."
The rest of the talk took some of the crowd out of their comfort zone. Jones praised the economics of Trump, which the crowd cheered, and the economics of Obama, which the crowd booed. However, Jones was determined to leave the audience with one point throughout his talk: that the right and the left should work together on criminal justice reform.
"Democracy means you get to disagree, so that's good," said Jones, to scattered applause. "Where we don't agree, we should fight. Try to fight clean... My problem is not the battle ground. My problem is there are common ground issues where we do agree and we won't work together on those all too often. And that's gotta stop in America."
Jones was fervent that one of these common ground issues was criminal justice reform.
"Both parties have sacred values and principles that are being run over by excessive incarceration," Jones continued. "At your best," he said, gesturing to Schlapp on his right, "the Republican party, the conservative movement, believes in the idea of liberty, which is limited government and respect for individual rights and dignity. At our best," now referring to the left, "we believe in the concept of justice, making sure that the little folks don't get run over by the big folks. That's why we tell our kids 'liberty and justice for all'... because if you have justice without liberty... what we get is totalitarianism... and liberty... gives you too much corporate power in the system... I've never seen a bird fly with only a left wing. I've never seen a bird fly with only a right wing."
He ended the 20 minute conversation by emphasizing the need for connection between the parties.
"We talk about each other," he said. "We don't talk to each other... The spirt of what I'm trying to say is as I've gotten to know more people working on this issue my mind has been changed. My heart has been changed. My understanding of what we can do together has been changed. And that has to happen more!"