Paul: Current criminal laws create situation 'somewhat like segregation'
© Greg Nash

Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulSenate sends annual defense bill to Obama's desk GOP rep: Trump has 'extra-constitutional' view of presidency The ignored question: What does the future Republican Party look like? MORE (R-Ky.) argued for criminal justice reform at a historically black college in Maryland on Friday, in what has become a staple of his message to young voters and minorities ahead of a potential presidential run in 2016.

Paul, who has frequently nodded to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s idea that there are “two Americas,” said in his speech at Bowie State University there’s one America where citizens are free to pursue their lives freely, and one where the federal government piles on with unnecessary laws, burdensome fines and regulations, and overly strict sentencing guidelines that contribute to keeping minority groups mired in poverty.

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“Those of us who have jobs and have lived fairly privileged lives don’t know what it’s like to pay fines and penalties on top of other fines and how someone’s life can spiral out of control because of this,” Paul said. 

The Kentucky Republican argued that civil forfeiture and mandatory minimum sentencing laws must be reformed, and highlighted bipartisan bills he’s worked on to expunge the records of former criminals that would make it easier for them to find work.

Paul said the laws currently on the books have created a situation that is “somewhat like segregation.”

“There’s a racial outcome to this,” Paul said. “I don’t think it’s intentional, but it’s real, and we should do something about it.”

Paul pointed to two recent racially charged incidents that have provoked protests across the country as evidence of there’s "an undercurrent of unease.”

Ferguson, Mo., has been on edge since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager after an encounter on the street last year. The incident led to a Justice Department investigation that found widespread abuses within the criminal justice system there and ultimately led to the resignation of the police chief.

And in New York City, protests erupted after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer responsible for the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, who was suspected of selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk.

Paul blamed politicians for creating laws that lead to police harassment, and unnecessary fines and arrests. 

“What reason do we have for politicians telling the police they have to take someone down for selling a cigarette that’s not taxed,” he said. “There are other ways … I blame the politicians, they write these rules.”

Paul has been outspoken about the racial unease that he sees permeating the country, and he’s long been an advocate for scaling back drug laws and reforming the criminal justice system. The Kentucky Republican is a sponsor on a new bill that would legalize medical marijuana on the federal level for states that have legalized it.

Paul has also talked at length about expanding the GOP’s appeal to the next generation, and many believe his libertarian-leaning views on issues like drug policy and criminal sentencing reform could appeal to a younger set of voters.