Politics
3:00 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

In Wake of Ferguson Unrest, Kentucky Lawmakers Speak Out Against Police Militarization

Congressman John Yarmuth (l) and Senator Rand Paul (r) of Kentucky at the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate in Danville, Ky.
Credit Phillip Bailey / WFPL News

A pair of Kentucky lawmakers on opposite sides of the aisle Thursday spoke out against a suburban St. Louis police department's use of force amid civic unrest.

Both Republican Sen. Rand Paul and Democratic Congressman John Yarmuth offered their first comments on violence in Ferguson, Mo., where demonstrators and police have clashed over four days in reaction to the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, who is African-American.

The unrest has prompted national conversation about race and the rising concerns over the use of military tactics by local law enforcement.

Yarmuth, whose district covers most of Louisville, and Paul, a likely presidential candidate, voiced concerns separately about the use of militarized police forces.

In an op-ed for Time Magazine, Paul said big government policies and a racially skewed justice system are at play in Ferguson.

From Time Magazine:

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. The images and scenes we continue to see in Ferguson resemble war more than traditional police action.

...

When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process that allows the police to become judge and jury—national security letters, no-knock searches, broad general warrants, pre-conviction forfeiture—we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands.

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

Paul's reaction to the crisis was anticipated for a variety of reasons, as a libertarian-leaning senator who is courting black voters.

Yarmuth sent WFPL a released statement, condemning police actions.

"The citizens of Ferguson deserve answers from police, not a military-style offensive," he said. "The police tactics against protestors are appalling and antithetical to American values, whatever the investigation of Michael Brown's killing ultimately reveals."

A group of civil rights activists are holding a rally Thursday in Louisville to show solidarity with Ferguson protestors. The event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. downtown in front of Metro Hall.

Kentucky Congressman Thomas Massie, another outspoken libertarian lawmaker, has yet to respond to our request for comment.

UPDATE 4:55 p.m.:

The dean of the Congressional Black Caucus is praising Paul's piece on the Ferguson protests.

"I never thought of him in that light before," said longtime Democratic Congressman John Conyers to The Washington Post. "It certainly is heartening. I’m encouraged by that kind of observation."

As observers have noted, Paul is seeking to expand the GOP's voting pool and the TIME Magazine op-ed is more evidence Paul is serious about connecting conservative views on big government to minority voters.

Conyers added he would like to gauge Paul's interest on a possible federal probe into the Brown shooting.

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