The PJ Tatler

Paul Hopes Criminal Justice Reform Emerges If No Indictment: 'This Isn't Just Ferguson'

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said he hopes “something constructive” comes out of the unrest in Ferguson, Mo., even if no indictment of Officer Darren Wilson is returned by the grand jury.

Paul recently visited the St. Louis suburb, where he “sensed that there’s an undercurrent of unease,” and met with residents and community leaders.

The mistrust of police and the judicial system is “really throughout the United States,” the senator added. “This isn’t just Ferguson.”

“The war on drugs has had a disproportionate impact on African-Americans and Hispanics. White kids are using drugs also, but they’re not going to jail. Black kids, brown kids are populating our jails. It’s destroying our families. They sense it. And that’s why there’s this unease between police and the African-American community,” Paul said.

“It’s also not a very integrated police force. I don’t have all the answers or know exactly why not, but I did want to hear from them. And I’m a big proponent of saying that the war on drugs needs to be changed dramatically and we need to quit saying that the answer is to put people in jail for a decade or two and throw away the key, and that’s the end of their life.”

On Ferguson, Paul said he’s “tried not to weigh in on the specifics of the case, because I don’t know the police officer, and it’s all secret and it’s a grand jury.”

“And I don’t want to be the federal guy that comes in and says, oh, I know what’s always right for a community,” he added.

“But I do want to be the one who says that, let’s channel this into — the anger or the upset or the unease, let’s channel it into something positive. And so what I suggested when I was in Ferguson was, I suggested I want more people to vote. You want more people to vote,” Paul said.

“I will help you get more people to vote. And the biggest thing impeding voting in our country — we have talked about voter I.D. and all that — that’s not the problem in our country. The problem is people who have had felony convictions are prevented from voting.”

Paul has been pressing at both the federal and state levels to get the voting rights of nonviolent felons restored.

“And I have several pieces of legislation to try to allow people to vote. And I think if they channel their energy into registering to vote — Ferguson is over 60 percent African-American. If they would register people to vote, they can have a bigger voice in their community and a constructive voice in the community,” he said.

“I have six different bills to try to give people back the right to vote, to try to let you expunge your record, to try to treat this more as a health problem and less as an incarceration problem. This is an indirect way of addressing the unease in Ferguson. But I don’t have a specific answer where I can make everything right in Ferguson.”