A University of North Texas alumnus hopes he can bring more understanding to national debates on police reform and racial justice through his work as a Fox News contributor.
Lawrence Jones said he brings a lot of experience and understanding to the ongoing debates about criminal justice. Jones describes himself as a Libertarian and a young Black man who has experienced discrimination that protesters cite as a basis to reform the country’s police.
At 9 p.m. Sunday, he’ll explore the issue on One Nation With Lawrence Jones on Fox News.
His early ambitions were in the law, Jones said. He wanted to practice criminal law, and his first job was in the juvenile courts advocating for young people already in the criminal justice system and working for reform. He was a student advocate for Garland ISD and represented the school district in the court system.
In that role, Jones said he was often a liaison between judges and students helping get students back into school.
“I always thought that was my passion, to go be a criminal justice guy. Become a lawyer, run for office, change policy. [Make reform] that way,” said Jones, who made the jump from Texas to New York City after a turn on television revealed a natural instinct for the camera. “During that period of time, I got into media and realized that, you know, you’ve got to get the public to understand these issues. Very rarely do they understand what’s happening because [the information] is not given to them.”
Jones said he landed on television when a media outlet wanted his perspective on an investigation, and the spot clicked for him.
“It was more of a natural thing for me,” he said. “It just happened. I just did it. I was going to law school, that was the plan, but it felt natural to be on camera and it led me to where I am now.”
At 27, Jones said he’s building a career that puts him into the action covering protests and talking to all sorts of sources about their lives and their hopes for the country.
“I enjoy that when I go on camera, I’m able to take that real-world experience — being out there, talking to all different backgrounds, all different political ideologies. Hearing what they’re saying and talking to them and seeing them say, ‘This is how this feels,’” Jones said.
In his work, Jones has learned a lot about policing, schools and courts. He’s spent time with families whose lives have been affected by deadly violence. As a young Black man raised by poor parents, Jones has also seen the struggles poor children face. Jones has found that misconceptions about police, courts and communities of color are persistent. He’d like to be someone who helps build bridges between institutions and the public.
“When I’m often having these conversations, people are often wanting me to choose a side,” he said. “We’re having this national conversation about police brutality, and reforming the police and reforming the criminal justice system. And then you have the community that has disproportionately been affected by gun violence and crime, has been my community as well. So you’ve got the people who just want me to talk about the violence in the community as well, and the young people who have died. ... And then you have the sentiment on police — the bad apples that have created the issue there, some people just want you to talk about that.
“One thing I have made very clear is that I talk about all three issues,” Jones said. “Whether the state is abusing its power or if the state is not doing a great job protecting its citizens from the violence within these communities.”
One of the misconceptions Jones said he encounters is that as a criminal justice reformer and a champion of constitutional liberties, he must want to empty out prisons. Jones said incarceration should be a tool for protecting Americans from violence.
“But I also don’t like it when the state abuses its power and uses excessive force or racial profiling,” Jones said. “My ideology is rooted in the Constitution and how government should conduct itself, and who should be behind bars. But it’s also ensuring for equal justice for the officers who are going out there every day trying to keep communities safe as well. I don’t like generalizations painting all cops as bad. I think that’s counterproductive.”
In creating One Nation, Jones said he talked to police officers, activists and residents in poor communities.
“The purpose of this special is not only to educate and to provide an example to have these conversations, but it’s also to get us back on track in this conversation,” he said.
One Nation tries to parse the complexity of the summer, Jones said. Americans have watched as the government shut down businesses and public spaces to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which made some people feel like their government is curtailing their freedom. Then George Floyd was killed in police custody, and a conversation about government’s reach into American lives got heated.
“There was abuse of power that people witnessed,” he said. “The way citizens look at state is much different now. They saw abuses by the state that many Black people have been talking about for years. Then the George Floyd case happened. There’s no one with eyes who can see that and not say that was bad. And then the looting starting to happen, then you have the defund the police movement, and then you see the Black Lives Matter people, who have an agenda. Whereas in the community, when people say ‘Black lives matter,’ it means people want equal representation under the law.”
Jones hopes One Nation will show viewers that most Americans want liberty and safe communities. If the special does what Jones hopes it will, viewers will be able to talk about criminal justice reform with cooler heads. Jones doesn’t shy away from questions about media bias and the growing divide among Americans and their media bias. Being a Libertarian gives Jones a unique position in the Balkanized media landscape, Jones said.
“I don’t sell myself to any political party,” he said. “Both of them typically tick me off in some form or fashion. I’m able to look at the issues and go from there.”
Jones said he’s found support on Fox News to do his work and have conversations about touchy subjects, including the spikes in crime in New York and Chicago since protesters have demanded defunding the police.
“I’m a 27-year-old Black man, and Fox is giving me the opportunity,” he said. “I’m probably the first Black man my age that any news agency has given this kind of opportunity. They want authentic opinion, authentic views, reasonable conversations. They’re going to be a lot of things you might disagree with, but let’s talk about it.”