During the Jan. 28 Republican debate, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky called for criminal justice reform. The presidential candidate explained that mass incarceration rates and the War on Drugs are to blame for the racial tensions that have gripped the nation (video below).
The Fox News-moderated debate presented a question from YouTube celebrity and military veteran Mark Watson, who asked the candidates why there was not a greater effort in providing body cameras for police across the country to rebuild trust between law enforcement and minority citizens.
Paul was the only candidate to give an answer, but his was comprehensive and indicated that the senator has actually listened to the grievances of minority groups.
“You know I've supported legislation to allow body cameras,” Paul said, reports Bustle. “I’ve been to Ferguson. I've been trying to look for solutions to our criminal justice problem.”
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Paul visited Ferguson in November 2014 when passionate protests erupted in the Missouri town following the death of Michael Brown. He met with the NAACP, the Urban League and the Anti-Defamation League, according to Politico.
At the time, Paul recommended to the people of Ferguson that they should become more involved in the political process to ensure that their leaders were actually representative of their community.
“If you don’t like your local government … you need to replace them,” Paul said.
After his experience in Ferguson, Paul wrote an opinion article for Time in which he said:
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In the search for culpability for the tragedy in Ferguson, I mostly blame politicians. Michael Brown’s death and the suffocation of Eric Garner in New York for selling untaxed cigarettes indicate something is wrong with criminal justice in America. The War on Drugs has created a culture of violence and put police in a nearly impossible situation.
During the Fox News debate, Paul repeated his stance on criminal justice reform and how it relates to race but this time his words had an audience of millions.
“One thing I discovered in Ferguson was that a third of the budget for the city of Ferguson was being reaped by civil fines,” Paul said, according to Bustle. “People were just being fined to death. Now you and I and many of the people in this audience, if we get a $100 fine we can survive it. If you're living on the edge of poverty and you get a $100 fine or you get your car towed a lot of times, you lose your job.”
The Kentucky senator added that the War on Drugs has had a negative racial impact, saying:
"I also think the War on Drugs has disproportionately affected our African-American community, and what we need to do is make sure that the war on drugs is equal protection under the law and that we don't unfairly incarcerate another generation of young African-American males.
"In Ferguson, for every 100 African-American women, there are only 60 African-American men. Drug use is about equal between white and black, but our prisons -- three out of four people in prison are black or brown. I think something has to change. I think it's a big thing that our party needs to be part of, and I've been a leader in Congress on trying to bring about criminal justice reform."
The Kentucky senator’s answer received a round of applause. The missed opportunity of the evening was, perhaps, the moderators not pressing the other candidates for their take on the issue.