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Democrat seeking Kentucky House seat touts police service amid unrest

Josh Hicks sees black and white voter interest in justice reform

Corrected 1 p.m. | It’s an unusual time for a former small-town police officer to be running for Congress, especially as a Democrat in a Kentucky district carried by President Donald Trump.

But Josh Hicks is trying to meet the moment. Now working as a lawyer in Lexington, the retired Marine has made the headline item on his résumé the five years he spent as a member of the Maysville Police Department at the same time when outrage about police officers killing black civilians has led to protests across the country.

“This is obviously a problem, and where we have broken the public trust, where the the public trust is lacking, then it’s our responsibility as law enforcement officers, or in my case, as a former law enforcement officer, to stand up and say [that] the only way to regain this trust is to prove that we’re accountable to that community, and prove that we’re dedicated to being public servants,” Hicks said in a recent interview. “And I think that is a message that’s resonating. I’ve seen it from police chiefs across the country.”

Hicks is the likely Democratic challenger to Republican Rep. Andy Barr in Kentucky’s 6th District, which encompasses the cities of Lexington and Richmond, as well as the state capital of Frankfort.

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Democrats believe the district is winnable, with Barr having won by just over 3 points in 2018 against Democrat Amy McGrath. But Trump carried the district by more than 15 points in 2016, and both the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will be on the ballot this November. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Republican.

Asked about specific legislative steps, Hicks first endorsed a proposal from Senate Democrats to make sure that investigations of deaths in custody or with police involvement are sent to independent prosecutors for review. Hicks specifically suggested that the Department of Justice should be involved in such reviews.

“I know Sen. Tammy Duckworth has put forward a bill that would provide the DOJ with oversight of all police deaths, all deaths in police custody,” he said. “I think that’s a good way to look at this because we have a lot of trust to rebuild in this country, not just between police officers and their communities, but between people and their government, and this is a way to show that we’re responsive.”

The Duckworth-led proposal was included in the broader policing policy overhaul introduced by House and Senate Democrats on Monday.

Hicks argued that in places like the 6th District, there’s actually more commonality about mistrust of the police and the legal system among different racial and ethnic groups than it might appear.

The Lexington-Fayette region is about 14.4 percent black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and the voting population in the cities and towns that constitute the rest of the district is even less diverse.

“I think the priority has to be to understand that everyone does have a difference of opinion. But that doesn’t make us that different because social justice, criminal justice issues affect everyone in this district,” Hicks said. “People of color don’t trust, and for sometimes very good reasons, because they feel the criminal justice system is broken.”

“And poor white folks in a rural part of this district, they also don’t trust the criminal justice system, largely because they can see that it’s geared towards wealthy folks because you can’t be working at Tire World in Nicholas County, making eight, nine, 10 bucks an hour, and post a million dollars bail when you get charged with a crime — and a wealthy person can,” Hicks said. “And that commonality, that thing that makes us far more alike than different, has to be talked about in these times.”

Correction: This report was corrected to reflect the Trump margin in the district .

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