Rand Paul made a rather unusual pitch in Baltimore yesterday as part of his presidential campaign. He was back on the topic of criminal justice reform (which is certainly a valid issue for discussion) and invoked a number of criminal cases which highlight potential areas for improvement. He talked about the recently deceased Kalief Browder, a case which should obviously concern everyone given that nobody should sit in jail for that long without a trial on such a minor charge.
But after those comments, Paul moved on (as so many do) to try to roll one specific case up with a bunch of others and take it to the ten thousand foot level. This is where many potentially productive discussions tend to dive down rabbit holes and break down into sniping contests. The Kentucky senator didn’t do himself any favors when he decided to conflate multiple cases and then contradict his own message in a matter of moments.
“The Democrats have utterly failed our inner cities, and utterly failed the poor,” Mr. Paul said. “Don’t let them tell us it wasn’t them. A lot of these policies came from Bill Clinton. In Ferguson, for every 100 black women, there are 60 black men. That’s because 40 are incarcerated. Am I saying they did nothing wrong and it’s all racism? No. What I am telling you is that white kids don’t get the same justice. … The arrests in Baltimore are 15 to one black to white for marijuana arrests.”
Right after injecting the white kids don’t get the same justice comment, he turned around and tried to soft pedal the racism angle.
Mr. Paul also mentioned Richard Jewell, the suspect in the 1996 bombing at the Atlanta Olympics, as an example of how bad policing could affect anyone.
“I’m not saying it’s racism,” he said. “Many officials are black, so it’s not racism. But something’s wrong with the war on drugs that we decide to lock people up for 5, 10, 15 years.”
There are so many different issues to pick out of that mess that it’s tough to know where to start. But if Paul wants to win over any open minded audiences, starting by invoking Ferguson isn’t the way to go. There are certainly incidents of questionable police behavior from time to time, but even President Obama’s Justice Department scrapped the Ferguson case, determining that the officer there did nothing wrong. And the usual caveat of, “I’m not justifying the violence in the streets, but…” (which he did before the quoted text) doesn’t allay that.
Either you think the problem is rampant racism on the part of the government and law enforcement or you don’t. You really can’t have it both ways, particularly when you’re running for high office. If you honestly think that there’s a different system of justice for each of the races, then own that sentiment and come out and say it and we can debate it at length. This bouncing back and forth with contradictory comments isn’t advancing the discussion.
Rand Paul has been making a loud, repeated case for expanding the GOP tent, getting more minority voters involved with conservative causes and diversifying the party’s base of support. That’s great, and I agree with the goal 100%. There are a variety of hot issues where recent polling shows that conservatives could be doing a lot better with both black and Hispanic voters if they could break down the initial barriers to discussion and find common ground. But when the speaker goes fully to the extreme and essentially starts yelling No Justice No Peace at a presser by invoking a claim of two systems of justice, that has the distinct odor of pandering. I don’t care about people agreeing with my own governmental philosophy because they are white or because they are black or anything else of the kind. I would like to see an expanded group of people who can agree on positive growth principles in spite of whatever color their skin might be. I’m not sure if Rand is really grasping that when puts on a show like this.