(CNN) – There’s a “legitimate” need for authorities “to keep the peace,” but the law enforcement response to racially-charged street protests over the police shooting of an unarmed Missouri teenager illustrates something more pervasive and troubling, Sen. Rand Paul said.
Writing Thursday in an opinion piece in Time, Paul noted that the wild scene of police in tactical gear apparently firing teargas and rubber pellets and pointing automatic weapons at people in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson resembled a “war more than a traditional police action.”
He said there “should be a difference between a police response and a military response."
All of the details of what occurred are not yet clear. But multiple law enforcement agencies were dispatched to calm the situation prompted by the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, 18, last Saturday.
Residents contend the shooting was unwarranted, and on Wednesday night, police said protesters threw firebombs and engaged in gunfire.
Paul said outrage over the shooting is “understandable,” but there is never an “excuse for rioting or looting.”
Weaving together his Democratic appeal with his libertarian-leaning values, Paul argued that the situation in Ferguson carries racial undertones and underscores a need for smaller government.
He has been actively courting African-Americans as he prepares the groundwork for a potential presidential campaign.
A large part of his outreach includes calling for criminal justice reform, with a focus on nonviolent crime and the war on drugs.
"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," he wrote in Time.
Moreover, he argued that police forces have become more militarized in recent years. His op-ed cites research that argues the federal government has had a role in the process by giving highly sophisticated equipment to local authorities.
"When you couple this militarization of law enforcement with an erosion of civil liberties and due process ... we begin to have a very serious problem on our hands," he wrote.