When police protests overtook Ferguson, MO last year, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) was the first 2016 contender to visit the city to reach out to civil rights leaders and call out the racist policing that led to the death of an unarmed teenager. But now, as protests sweep Baltimore and he has officially announced his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Paul has changed his tone.
“I came through the train on Baltimore last night and I’m glad the train didn’t stop,” he told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham during an interview recorded by Media Matters.
Paul had previously vowed to make criminal justice reform a central component of his campaign. But when addressing the protests in Baltimore over the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray caused by injuries he sustained in police custody, Paul said he is sympathetic to the police and that the violent protests stem from “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers” and the lack of a “moral code in our society.”
He added that the moral problems are not “a racial thing” and that “the police have to do what they have to do.”
“You do have to have enough show of security, enough show of a police force to deter the kind of action,” he said about the protests. “I think once it happens, it sort of spirals out of control. It’s depressing, it’s sad, it’s scary.”
The comments provide a stark contrast from Paul’s remarks in the wake of the protests in Ferguson, MO last year. Last August, Paul wrote an op-ed in Time in which he called for demilitarizing the police. “There is a systemic problem with today’s law enforcement,” he argued in the piece published shortly after Michael Brown’s death.
“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 wrote. “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.”
When the Kentucky senator visited Ferguson last year, he met with civil rights leaders to discuss his support for criminal justice reforms like ending long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes and restoring voting rights to convicted felons.
But Paul seemingly changed his once-libertarian tone after declaring his presidential campaign, deciding to join the sea of Republicans who support police and say they are confident police are held accountable for misconduct. According to a recent poll, 74 percent of Republicans are very or somewhat confident police are held accountable for misconduct, as opposed to 54 percent of all registered voters.
And Paul has also backed away from recognizing the systematic and racial problems present in many of the country’s police departments, an issue that has been documented by reports following lethal police encounters in Ferguson, Cleveland, OH and Staten Island, NY. When Walter Scott was killed by police in South Carolina this year, Paul said that 99 percent of police across the country “are doing their job on a day-to-day basis.”