On Martin Luther King Day, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) called for the “two Americas” to unite, urging Americans to be “aware of the injustices embedded in our criminal system” while not being “misled to believe that excessive force is the norm, not the exception.”
“The uneasy coexistence of the two Americas is brought to bear by the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown,” Paul wrote in a Time op-ed in which he quoted King and Rep. John Lewis (D-GA). “Although I was born into the America that experiences and believes in opportunity, my trips to Ferguson, Detroit, Atlanta, and Chicago have revealed that there is an undercurrent of unease.”
Paul said that he believes “that most police are conscientious and want only to provide safety for us” and “our pursuit of justice should not obscure the fact that on many occasions, good people do step forward to find justice.” He cited police officer William Stacy’s interaction with Helen Johnson, who “was desperate to feed her two daughters and their small children who had gone two days without food”:
When she got to the store, she discovered that the $1.25 she had was not enough to buy eggs. She was a mere fifty cents short, so she stuffed the eggs in her pocket.
Helen didn’t even make it out of the store before the police were notified.
When Police Officer William Stacy arrived, something special happened. Instead of handcuffing Helen and taking her to jail, he used discretion and compassion to mete out justice. He warned Helen not to steal again and he bought her the eggs himself. Helen saw Officer Stacy again on Thanksgiving Day. He delivered a truckload of groceries to Helen’s home. Her grandchildren were overjoyed and proclaimed that they had never seen so much food in all their lives.
“It isn’t hard to find injustice around us, but we must not let injustice smear the good deeds that do occur everyday,” Paul wrote. “Let’s commemorate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King by uniting the two Americas into one: an America that includes justice for one, and justice for all.”
After Michael Brown’s death, Paul wrote that “it is almost impossible for many Americans not to feel like their government is targeting them,” and “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,” he asserted then. “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.”
Paul also called for the demilitarization of local police forces and met with Al Sharpton, who praised Paul for his remarks.