Responding to the recent outrages in Ferguson, Missouri, Rand Paul wrote the words that in most respects look like what you would hope that a Democratic candidate for the office would put forth:
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. …
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. …
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.
This, by the way, is what the “inevitable” Democratic candidate for President in 2016 had to say:
Just in case Ms. Clinton decides to say something, here’s a google search on Hillary Clinton + Ferguson, Mo. and here’s one on Hillary Clinton + militarization of police (which also, as of this writing turns up bupkis) to boot.
Rand Paul’s statement is pretty good for a Republican. Sure, it seems politically calculated; you might even think that Rand Paul is willing to play that dirty, dirty trick of calibrating his positions on issues to coincide with what the public wants (rather than what they’ll put up with because the other choice is so reprehensible). His statement falls far short of what one might hope for, though. In describing and assessing the root cause of the problem, Rand pulls out his favorite bugaboo, “Big Government” as the root cause of the problem.
— Wil Wheaton (@wilw) August 18, 2014
The root cause of the problem in Ferguson is individual and institutional racism. This racism is empowered and exacerbated by “Big Government” which puts the wrong tools and training in the hands of a group of people who are demonstrably incapable of conforming their behavior to the norms expected of a local police organization:
You can argue about the looting and the brick-throwing. You can argue about what constitutes a race “riot” these days – and why the hell we are seeing teargas every other evening in the suburbs, or Jim Crow-reminiscent police dogs in the year 2014. There are a lot of things worth arguing about now that the world’s eyes are focused on Ferguson, Missouri, a town where two-thirds of the population is black and 50 of the 53 police offers are white, where one of those officers gunned down an unarmed black kid in broad daylight.
But here is something that makes no sense, that is inarguable: Ferguson (population: 21,135) has about 40 robberies per year, a couple of homicides, almost no arson cases and a crime rate only a bit higher than the national average. Indeed, the town’s crime rate was going down as of two years ago, when the last major data is available. Ditto in neighboring St Louis. …
On Saturday night, as people took to the streets to protest the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department, the chief of which reportedly displays a confederate flag in his home, had [a tank] at his disposal:
What is happening in Ferguson is exactly what opponents of the rise in military-style policing across America have long feared: when the feds arm white local cops with weapons of war and their superiors encourage them not to just play dress-up but to use their new war toys, it is inevitable that ordinary citizens – especially citizens of color – will get treated as the enemy. As we’ve seen in Ferguson, when military might comes to Main Street, “hands-up, don’t shoot” quickly turns into a quasi-declaration of war on a grieving community.
The government’s and some local police forces’ response to the Occupy movement also demonstrated why police militarization is a clear and present danger to society and democracy absent a specific racist motivation.
It would be nice to hear any candidate for the Presidency deal with these issues demonstrating insight, speaking in a forthright manner absent hedging and political calculation and putting forward a credible plan to address the problem.
Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.