Analysing Hillary Clinton’s and Rand Paul’s comments on the shooting of Michael Brown and Ferguson protests.

Background: In Ferguson, Missouri, an unarmed black teenager called Michael Brown was shot dead by a white police officer, sparking protests in the surrounding areas that were suppressed by massive, overbearing police crackdowns. The shooting of Michael Brown is one of many recent incidents where an unarmed black person has been killed by a white police officer.

Speaking at the Nexenta OpenSDx Summit in San Francisco, Hillary Clinton said the following:

Behind the dramatic terrible pictures on television are deep challenges that will be with us long after the cameras move on. this is what happens when the bonds of trust and respect that hold any community together fray. nobody wants to see our streets look like a was zone. not in America. we are better than that … Imagine what we would feel and what we would do if white drivers were three times as likely to be searched by police during a traffic stop as black drivers instead of the other way around. If white offenders received prison sentences ten percent longer than black offenders for the same crimes. If a third of all white men in this room went to prison during their lifetime. imagine that. that is the reality in the lives of so many of our fellow Americans and so many of the communities in which they live. It was 51 years ago today that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called us to live out the true meaning of our creed. To make the dream real for all Americans. And that mission is as fiercely urgent today as when he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in the hot August sun all those years ago.

She also called out the racial inequalities in the criminal justice system.

For somebody like Clinton who is probably planning a 2016 run, her comments are both reassuring and disappointing at the same time. On the one hand, I am glad Clinton went further than Obama. She doesn’t pontificate and question whether there exists racial inequality in the criminal justice system or in the racially divided communities across the U.S. It’s not a matter of “maybe” for Hillary Clinton, it’s happening. For somebody like myself who is experiencing what the Washington Post calls “buyer’s remorse” for the Obama presidency, I’m glad Clinton isn’t afraid to speak up on one of the most controversial issues of our time (although it should not be controversial).

On the other hand, the timing is terrible. Hillary seems to have waited until absolutely nobody is listening to make a calculated statement about the shooting of Michael Brown. Hillary knows there is a huge racial divide in America and I doubt she wants to be the first to speak up about it. Hillary may be more outspoken than Obama on the issue of race, but she’s just as calculated, if not more so. To wait until the furore has subsided some before making a comment about the racial inequality in America makes a lot of progressives uncomfortable. Why did she wait so long? Where was she when we needed her? It may be too cynical to suppose that she’s hoping not too many white people hear her statements on Ferguson, but I can’t shake the feeling that she doesn’t want to anger too many white voters before 2016.

Writing for TIME, Rand Paul explains that while there is no excuse for looting and rioting (despite the fact that the only evidence we’ve had of looting has been protesters breaking into a McDonalds to take milk to pour in the eyes of people who were attacked with tear gas), the police force resembles a dangerous military more and more. He blames big government for fuelling these local military forces under War on Drugs and Department of Homeland Security spending, and calls for the demilitarization of the police force:

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.

I’m 100% with Paul where the demilitarization of the police force is concerned. The police are there to protect, not to terrorize. If you think the police need tanks and aircraft and tear gas to deal with unarmed protesters, you’re talking about martial law. We have seen the police get away with murder, quite literally, countless times and the victims are almost always black. This is an affront to individual liberty of all American citizens, but especially African-American ones.

My problem with Paul is that his statements ring of opportunism. Rand Paul, like his father, has dedicated his career for smaller government and less federal power. Now while that’s not necessarily a bad thing per se, his libertarian narratives make a lot of his domestic policy foul. Sure he wants less power for the police, but he also doesn’t believe in healthcare that doesn’t put you into bankruptcy, and he doesn’t believe in a lot of the safety nets in place for the poorest among us. I am glad Rand Paul is one of very few Republicans (in fact, the only one I can think of) willing to align himself with progressives on the issue of racial disparity, but I can’t help feeling like Ferguson is a chance for Paul to say “see! I toldya! Big government bad!” The events fit perfectly into his small government narrative and I just hope nobody forgets that Paul wants to remove both good and bad parts of federal power.

Paul has also quibbled about whether the institutionalized targeting of African-Americans by the criminal justice system is intentional. It is.

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