Sen. Rand Paul, who has stood apart from his party in directly addressing race and the criminal justice system, is now among the first to speak out forcefully on the police confrontations with protestors in Ferguson, Mo. in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown, 18, by a police officer.
In an op-ed in Time Magazine published Thursday, Paul framed the anger and police reactions through the lens of race, pointing to discrepancies in treatment:
Anyone who thinks that race does not skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention. And the root of the problem is big government. The shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown is an awful tragedy that continues to send shockwaves through the community of Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation. If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.
Paul, who has taken on the inequity in drug sentencing and called for reform, blamed big government for what he called an outsized and militarized approach to the protestors. Over the last four days, social media and major media outlets have shown pictures of police officers clad in riot gear and wielding guns at people with their hands up.
The senator argued that "Washington has incentivized the militarization of local police precincts by using federal dollars to help municipal governments build what are essentially small armies — where police departments compete to acquire military gear that goes far beyond what most of Americans think of as law enforcement."
As he eyes a 2016 bid, Paul has tried to court African American voters and broaden the GOP tent -- and his op-ed appeared to validate their frustration:
Given the racial disparities in our criminal justice system, it is impossible for African-Americans not to feel like their government is particularly targeting them.
This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri. It is what the citizens of Ferguson feel when there is an unfortunate and heartbreaking shooting like the incident with Michael Brown.