Paul (R-Ky.), who announced earlier this month that he is running for president, has made criminal justice reform one of his signature issues. He seems to have found his footing when talking about race, and honed his pitch here Thursday and last month at Bowie State University in Maryland.
He came back to Howard for on a panel on criminal justice reform with other members of Congress, including Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), with whom he has co-sponsored legislation on criminal justice and medical marijuana, and Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).
Paul said he thinks that changing the criminal justice system "is becoming a right/left thing" with people in both parties calling for some felony convictions to become misdemeanors, particularly for low-level drug offenses. By doing away with mandatory minimum sentences for some crimes, he said, people would have an easier job finding employment.
He told the audience that he has always been "somewhat skeptical of the war on drugs," and became even more so after learning that three-quarters of people in prison were black or brown. Paul said he doesn't think "it's all racism," but and is oftentimes "inadvertent, but it's still a problem. It ought to stop."
When asked how Paul can get other Republicans to help change criminal justice, Booker joked, "Maybe he can run for president or something."
"I think he made some valid points," said Anika Hamilton, 18. "He seemed willing to look at all sides."
Pete Buckley Jr., a 20-year-old freshman, said he felt Paul was talking about criminal justice as a "check mark on the campaign trail." But he has always been interested in Paul and said he's still trying to figure out if he would vote for him, or possibly Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) or Gov. Chris Christie (R-N.J.).
Joseph Lavela and some friends were standing at a reception, talking about Paul's fumbles last time. He only saw the last bit of Paul's remarks, but didn't like how Paul angled his chair. The Kentucky Republican was sitting at the end of the panel and angled his chair to look straight at its participants rather than out in the audience.
"He's trying to pander to the black audience to get the black vote," Lavela said. "At least look at the audience."