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One of the most outspoken politicians in the wake of the police shooting death of Michael Brown is someone you might least expect: a Republican senator from Kentucky.


Rand Paul, a potential 2016 presidential candidate, wrote an op-ed column on Time magazine's website touching on one of the most hotly debated topics amid the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and a longtime libertarian pet cause: police militarization.

The scenes there "resemble a war more than traditional police action," he wrote. Paul said if he had "smarted off" to cops as a teenager, he "wouldn't have expected to be shot."


Paul's politics don't square neatly with traditional Republican views. He is a leader of the GOP's ascendant libertarian wing whose stance on criminal justice and civil liberties differ from the mainstream "law and order" politics that have dominated the party since the 1960s.

In the aftermath of the violence in Ferguson, where heavily armed police used tear gas against protesters and the media, Paul and his allies are making their voices heard in a way that highlights a schism within the Republican Party.

Paul argued in his column that the federal government has fueled the growth of militarization of police by providing funds for local law enforcement agencies to acquire high-powered weapons and armor meant for the battlefield, not suburban neighborhoods.

He railed against practices, such as no-knock raids and pre-conviction forfeiture, that allow "the police to become judge and jury." Paul was careful to condemn violence against police and to affirm the police's role to "keep the peace."


But Paul, who has attempted to woo black voters to the Republican Party, pointed out that aggressive police tactics, combined with harsh sentencing laws, make it easy for African-Americans to think that the cops are "targeting them."

"This is part of the anguish we are seeing in the tragic events outside of St. Louis, Missouri," Paul 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."


Paul went even further than President Obama in condemning the police response to demonstrators in Ferguson. Paul’s comments echoed some Democrats, like Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, who called on police in the St. Louis suburb to demilitarize.

Paul wasn't alone among Republicans. Here's Michigan Rep. Justin Amash:


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) took a more measured position. He criticized police for arresting reporters from The Washington Post and the Huffington Post on Wednesday night.

"Reporters should never be detained — a free press is too important — simply for doing their jobs," Cruz said in a statement on Facebook.


"Law and order" Republicans are making their voices heard, too. Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt threw his backing behind St. Louis County's top police official just hours before media outlets reported that county police would be relieved of their duties in Ferguson.

"The people around the country that I talk to, the Chief of Police in St. Louis County, John Belmar, is at the top of the list in terms of expertise and his preparation," Blunt told The Springfield News-Leader on Wednesday.


Some Fox News programming has focused on whether protesters are to blame for triggering the violence.


And Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) brushed aside concerns about racial profiling by police because the protesters in Ferguson appeared to be of a single "continental origin."

The tragedy in Ferguson provided an opportunity for Paul and his allies to tout their vision of the GOP as a party that welcomes civil libertarians. It remains to be seen if their viewpoint can become the predominant one in the Republican Party, which has traditionally taken a much tougher stance on criminal justice and national security.


Jordan Fabian is Fusion's politics editor, writing about campaigns, Congress, immigration, and more. When he's not working, you can find him at the ice rink or at home with his wife, Melissa.

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