LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Referring to George Floyd’s death as a murder, Sen. Rand Paul spoke out Tuesday against no-knock search warrants and the militarization of police departments during a conversation with activists seeking answers for the shooting death of a black woman by Louisville police.
During the discussion, Paul lamented that police officers sometimes follow bad policies. And in cases of police abuse, the bar for firing offending officers should be low, he said.
The Kentucky lawmaker, who has worked with Democrats in pressing for criminal-justice reform, said he’s likely to support some form of federal legislation aimed at overhauling police procedures.
Paul spoke with an aunt of Breonna Taylor, who was killed in her home in March. The 26-year-old EMT was shot eight times by narcotics detectives who knocked down her front door while attempting to enforce a search warrant. No drugs were found in the home.
“I want to make sure that we don’t forget Breonna,” he said. “That we try to make it better, so this doesn’t happen again.”
Taylor’s aunt, Bianca Austin, said her niece didn’t have “one bad bone in her body” and the family “is going to fight this to the end.”
Paul had strong words about Floyd’s death, which sparked protests nationwide. Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes, even after he stopped moving and pleaded for air.
“With the Floyd murder … we need to have policies saying we shouldn’t have a knee on someone’s neck,” he said. “And then it’s the individual doing that for eight minutes. So there’s the individual problem but there’s the policy problem.”
A former Minneapolis police officer is charged with second-degree murder in Floyd’s death.
Paul reiterated his criticism of no-knock search warrants, which allow officers to enter a home without announcing their presence.
“I think it’s crazy that we’re breaking down people’s doors in the middle of the night,” he said. “People are frightened. They don’t know what to do. They don’t know if it’s burglars.”
During the discussion with the Kentucky activists, Paul also spoke out against selling military equipment to police departments — something he’s tried to block for years.
“I don’t think we need bayonets and tanks in our streets,” he said. “I think it sends a wrong message and it’s not really what our country’s about.”
It’s not a new issue for Paul, who spoke about “a systemic problem” with law enforcement after a white police officer fatally shot Michael Brown, a black teenager, in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. Since protests erupted over recent deaths of black people by white police officers, Paul has continued to call for widespread changes in criminal justice polices.
The Republican lawmaker was pressed Tuesday for his reason in holding up a widely backed bill to designate lynching as a federal hate crime. Paul called lynchings a “horror” of American history and said he supports the bill but contended that bill’s language was too broad and could apply to minor assaults. He has noted that murdering someone because of their race is already a hate crime.
Meanwhile, people should resist broad generalizations about police, he said.
“I don’t want to be out there just saying police are bad,” Paul said. “There are many, many good people on the Louisville police force. I’ve met them. It’s sometimes sort of like our soldiers, put into a bad position by bad policy.”
But when officers are found to have committed abuse, he added: “The bar for firing should be very low if you abuse or use excessive force, even if someone is not killed.”
Taylor’s family wants the officers involved her in her death fired and prosecuted, Austin said.
The discussion was organized by Christopher 2X, an anti-violence activist and executive director of the group Game Changers, after Paul’s office reached out to him.