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August 15, 2014

Senator Rand Paul blames ugliness of Ferguson on the ugliness of big CJ government

Senator Rand Paul, who has made notable efforts to push notable reforms of the federal criminal justice system, has penned this provocative Time op-ed about the sad and ugly situation that has unfolded in Ferguson, Missouri in the aftermath of the police shooting of teenager Michael Brown. Here are excerpts:

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.  The outrage in Ferguson is understandable — though there is never an excuse for rioting or looting.  There is a legitimate role for the police to keep the peace, but there should be a difference between a police response and a military response.

The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action....

Most police officers are good cops and good people.  It is an unquestionably difficult job, especially in the current circumstances.

There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement.

Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem.  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.

This is usually done in the name of fighting the war on drugs or terrorism.  The Heritage Foundation’s Evan Bernick wrote in 2013 that, “the Department of Homeland Security has handed out anti-terrorism grants to cities and towns across the country, enabling them to buy armored vehicles, guns, armor, aircraft, and other equipment.”...

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury — national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture — we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

Given these developments, it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them.  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.

Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention.  Our prisons are full of black and brown men and women who are serving inappropriately long and harsh sentences for non-violent mistakes in their youth.

The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm.  It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime.  It is quite another for them to subsidize it.

Americans must never sacrifice their liberty for an illusive and dangerous, or false, security.  This has been a cause I have championed for years, and one that is at a near-crisis point in our country.

August 15, 2014 at 11:45 AM | Permalink


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"The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power"

I think the big defense contractors had something to do with it, along with a Republican lead War on Crime.

Posted by: Paul | Aug 15, 2014 3:34:33 PM

Rand Paul is correct on the militarization of the police as an infringement on the Constitution. In fact, the military equipment should go to the National Guard, NOT local law enforcement. If specialized equipment is needed for properly vetted domestic operations, then it should be vetted through a local judge.

One problem with Rand's generalization, though, is that the investigation into the incident has not been completed. In fact, the "boy" being investigated was an 18-year old man who is actually bigger than the cop, and had been approached because he was a suspect in a VIOLENT FELONY ROBBERY that occurred shortly before the altercation that involved the injury of a store clerk from an assault allegedly committed by the man who was shot by the cop.

In short, we have three different issues: A robbery, a cop who may or may not have overreacted, and finally, a racial problem that will NEVER go away in this country if we are led by people who don't adhere to the constitution, whether through ignorance through indifference, or abuse.

Posted by: Eric Knight | Aug 15, 2014 8:13:56 PM

Rand Paul is making the case for why the death penalty is not and cannot be administered fairly. Racial consciousness plays too large a role.

The comment of a potential juror in a capital case I tried remains seared in my brain. During selection, the juror said he didn't think it would be appropriate for him to be selected because "The defendant is black, I'm white and I am prejudiced."


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Aug 16, 2014 6:41:09 AM

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