On Friday, a day after a sniper attack left five Dallas police officers dead, Washington state Republican Rep. David Reichert said he was heartbroken.
“There’s a fear that’s building … Where else can it happen?” asked Reichert, an ex-sheriff and lawman of 33 years. “People just have this feeling that America is crumbling and falling apart.”
This has got to end. We’re not a third-world country. We’re the United States of America leading the rest of the world, supposedly.
Rep. Dave Reichert
In the past year, Reichert, a sixth-term congressman, has emerged as the go-to guy for House Republicans on policing issues.
After riots broke out in Ferguson and Baltimore, House Republicans gave a new assignment to the 65-year-old Reichert, asking him to lead a congressional task force to find ways to ease the seemingly never-ending tensions between minorities and law enforcement.
Last year, after riots broke out in Ferguson and Baltimore, House Republicans asked Reichert to lead a congressional task force to find ways to ease the never-ending tensions between minorities and law enforcement.
And amid the disbelief and sorrow that swept the U.S. Capitol on Friday, Reichert, a longtime centrist, found himself in the middle yet again, searching for a solution that he hoped could unite both Democrats and Republicans alike.
“We’ve got to be able to convince people to come together on protecting Americans and ending violence — period,” Reichert said. “This has got to end. We’re not a third-world country. We’re the United States of America leading the rest of the world, supposedly.”
For starters, Reichert said, Congress and President Barack Obama should dump the tiresome arguments over gun control and actually do something to reduce gun crimes.
“All we do when we get into the debate on gun control is yell and scream past each other and nothing gets done,” Reichert said. “One side wants to take away guns and the other side doesn’t want to take any gun rights whatsoever. You’ve got two ideological positions that will never change. … The rhetoric gets to such a high pitch and fervor that it incites more violence.”
All we do when we get into the debate on gun control is yell and scream past each other and nothing gets done.
Rep. Dave Reichert.
Instead, Reichert said, he’s pushing House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and other GOP leaders to look to the past for an answer, reviving Project Safe Neighborhoods, a program that has its roots under President Bill Clinton and one that helped reduce crime in his native King County.
Among other things, it would give more money to prosecutors’ offices to convict those who commit gun crimes and to help departments train police officers. And it would seek to get community members involved in the nuts and bolts of police operations, even having them help interview prospective cops.
During House votes on Friday, House Republican Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California approached Reichert, asking him to meet with him and Ryan next week “to further vet this out.”
“I’m very encouraged that the leader came to me on the floor himself,” Reichert said.
Earlier in the day, Reichert spoke with Rep. John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, hoping to get Democrats to collaborate on a plan to deal with gun violence. Reichert said he and Lewis will co-write a newspaper column on the importance of bringing Congress together and “leading this country to peace.”
Reichert said he hopes to get House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, into next week’s meeting with Ryan and McCarthy to discuss Project Safe Neighborhoods.
Reichert, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the House Law Enforcement Caucus, said the program has suffered in recent years. After law enforcement agencies were awarded $133 million between 2005 to 2009, he said Congress appropriated only $5 million for it last year.
“You cannot reduce gun crime with $5 million to spread out,” Reichert said, adding that he’s convinced he can get House leaders to back his idea: “I’ll tell you this: I’m a pretty persistent guy. I don’t let go of things, so I’m going to be the squeaky wheel.”
Reichert called the murders in Dallas “cowardly” and said officers are being targeted.
He said Congress must do something to help law-enforcement agencies nationwide that are struggling to find enough good job candidates, and as a result of the ongoing violence across the country.
“We want to make sure that we’re hiring officers who are emotionally stable and stay that way,” Reichert said. “We have a lot of officer suicides, as you might guess.”
On Thursday, Reichert watched the video that showed Philando Castile, 32, getting shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. It convinced him there’s much to do to improve the training of officers.
“I’ve been in those situations where I’ve had guns pointed at me and I’ve been toe-to-toe with a guy who put a shotgun in my chest,” Reichert said. “I chose not to fire. My question is: ‘Why is it always the first reaction in today’s world to shoot?’ ”