Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP lawmakers push amendment to rescind authority for troops in Afghanistan House GOP lawmaker tests positive for COVID-19 Top White House aide shares cartoon mocking Fauci MORE (R-Ky.) met with Ferguson, Mo., community leaders Friday. Civil unrest there came to a boil after the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a white police officer. 

"I came to Ferguson today to listen to leaders in the community and to learn more about how we can fix the problems of criminal injustice together," he said in a statement.

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Paul joined the NAACP and the Urban League, as well as religious and business leaders to discuss the issues that minorities face while dealing with the criminal justice system. In statements released by his office, officials praised Paul for heading down to Ferguson personally.

“Senator Paul's decision to meet with the St. Louis county NAACP and local leadership in Ferguson speaks volumes about the NAACP's strength and influence in the civil rights community,” John Gaskin III, the NAACP spokesman, said. “We were honored to have an informative discussion about the senator regarding ways that he can help to assist our civil rights agenda in Washington and help to end police militarization.”

According to Time magazine, Paul floated the idea of funding job-training programs from the proceeds of cutting minor criminal sentences.

In an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday, Paul said the trip to Ferguson was "a good opening to the conversation." He added that not visiting African-American communities has been the party's biggest mistake in the past few decades.

"I think beginning that conversation will change the country," he said. "If those parties are competing for votes and both parties are bringing alternative ideas to the cities, then maybe some good will happen." 

Since the shooting death in August of Michael Brown, 18, Paul’s emerged as a vocal defender of minority rights within the criminal justice system. In an op-ed piece for Time just days after the incident, he declared that, “we must demilitarize the police.”

“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 wrote. 

Paul, a prospective 2016 presidential candidate, has made significant efforts to reach out to minority populations that don’t typically support Republicans in droves. He’s also partnered with Democrats on criminal justice legislation that would soften sentences for and give more rights to non-violent offenders.

This post was updated at 4:30 p.m.