Rand Paul Calls for Police Demilitarization in Op-Ed on Ferguson

Yesterday, Paul Waldman asked “Why aren’t libertarians talking about Ferguson?” in an article for The Washington Post. For those unaware, the recent controversial shooting by police of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO led to widespread protests and civil disorder. The subsequent police response shocked the nation, as officers were seen in heavy military gear firing tear gas on and arresting reporters, detaining elected officials, and pointing sniper rifles at peaceful protesters. Waldman pointed out, “Like many police forces around the country, the one in Ferguson is bristling with military equipment, which they brought out to confront protesters. Though we’re talking about a town with 21,000 residents and a police force with 53 officers, they apparently have acquired the means to repel an invasion by any commando teams that decide to invade Ferguson.”

The progressive Waldman also argued that libertarians have been silent on the issue, despite the fact that a wide range of libertarian-leaning publications such as Reason have been covering the crisis extensively, mainly because, as he said in his op-ed, “Senator Rand Paul, right now America’s most prominent libertarian (yes, I know, some don’t consider him a real libertarian), hasn’t said anything about the case — no public comments, no news releases, nothing on Twitter, nothing on Facebook.”

Apparently, Rand Paul’s silence on the issue must have stemmed from the fact that he was busy writing an op-ed on Ferguson for Time, which was published today. In it, the Senator from Kentucky called for the demilitarization of police nationwide.

Paul opened his piece for Time with a highlighted snippet from later in the article,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.” He further hammered home his point on criminal justice inequality with additional comments, “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.”

He described how surplus weapons programs are transforming local police departments into miniature militaries, “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.” He denounced the bad apples who responded to the event with violence, but also cautioned that the police response should not be taken from the playbook of an occupying army, “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.”

Paul also commented specifically on the Michael Brown shooting, saying, “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.” Eyewitnesses allege that the confrontation between Brown and a Ferguson, MO police officer stemmed from the fact that Brown was walking in the street rather than on the sidewalk.

“The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action,” said Paul. Towards the end of his op-ed, he reaffirmed his stance on civil liberties, “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.”

Read Rand Paul’s op-ed for Time at this link.