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Gainesville attorney Ashley Bell brings criminal justice forum to Democratic Convention
Ashley Bell
Attorney Ashley Bell

20/20 Leaders of America Criminal Justice Forum

What: Panel discussions to discuss Black Lives Matter movement and recent violence against police

When: 2-5 p.m. Tuesday

Where: African American Museum of Philadelphia

How to watch: Live stream available on Fusion Network’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FusionNetwork and Youtube channel at www.youtube.com/user/thisisfusion. For more information, visit www.2020CJF.eventbrite.com.

As a black Republican, Gainesville attorney and former Hall County commissioner, Ashley Bell is in a unique position to address criminal justice reform — which has become something of a national dialogue after recent police shootings of African-Americans, as well as violent assaults on law enforcement in Texas and Louisiana.

Now, Bell has taken his 20/20 Leaders of America group, of which he is a co-chair, to Philadelphia and the site of the Democratic National Convention to host a forum Tuesday on the subject.

20/20 is dedicated to bringing people together to “elevate issues disproportionately affecting communities of color above partisan politics.”

The group held a similar event in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention last week.

Bell told The Times on Monday that he feels 20/20 is building upon its successes, pulling together fresh voices and “making every event bigger and better.” The group has received support from the likes of tech giants Facebook and Google.

Bell said persuading more Americans to support many of the goals of Black Lives Matter means being honest about the movement’s mistakes.

For example, he added, the story of Michael Brown’s death at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, sparked the “hands up, don’t shoot” mantra the movement adopted in its early days. But a Justice Department investigation found no reliable evidence that those words were ever spoken during the deadly altercation.

Bell said he believes today’s forum can help address the protest movement’s core ideals, which was started and based in social media, in a more substantive way to appeal to larger, more diverse audiences.  

“That message can only go so far,” Bell said. “I don’t think we can fix this with a hashtag.”

That’s why former professional basketball star Michael Jordan announced Monday that he was giving millions of dollars to established organizations — the NAACP and a national police organization — to tackle the issue of violence, Bell said.

“(Jordan’s) tone is exactly what we’re going for,” he added.

And it’s critical if real reform will be made to upend the so-called “school to prison pipeline” that has devastated some minority communities, Bell said.

Panel discussions during the forum will include the role of media, particularly minorities, in the protest movement; black elected officials discussing police reform in local communities; and a direct conversation between police officers and lead Black Lives Matter activists.

“Hopefully, between protesters and police, we can find common ground,” Bell said.

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