IOWA CITY, Iowa — Drawing cheers from a crowd of young supporters, Sen. Rand Paul vowed on Friday to fight the kind of policing that killed Eric Garner.
“Police should keep our communities safe from violence and then government needs to leave nonviolent offenders alone,” he said to applause, going on to reference the now infamous arrest and death of Garner in Staten Island over suspicion of pedaling untaxed cigarettes. “If a guy is selling loose cigarettes and not paying a king’s ransom in taxes, couldn’t we give him a ticket instead of throwing him to the ground?”
Garner’s death – the result of an illegal police chokehold – became a rallying cry for civil rights protesters and criminal justice reform advocates alike. In Iowa, the crowd of young conservatives went wild for Paul’s promises to reform the country’s law enforcement.
“Criminal justice reform would require leadership from someone who is unafraid to challenge the status quo. I won’t wait any longer, I’ve had enough. I will not rest until all Americans white and black, rich and poor, are treated equally under the law,” Paul said at a rally at the University of Iowa, his first visit to this early voting state since announcing his presidential bid earlier this week.
At the event, Paul sought to woo and mobilize young voters.
“If we want the Instagram generation to get up off the sofa, to leave their dorm rooms and vote, someone’s going to need to make it worth their while,” Paul told the rambunctious crowd Friday morning. The Kentucky Republican is hoping to show the country he’s got the same appeal his father had when the senior Paul came in second in the 2012 Iowa caucuses.
“We live in the greatest, the freest, the richest, the most humanitarian country on Earth,” Paul said. “Don’t let your parent’s generation screw it up!”
Hitting on topics ranging from the Middle East to American jobs, Paul argued against debt, regulation, and taxes. He voiced support for investing in American infrastructure and repatriating offshore profits. Paul also spoke at length about National Security Agency surveillance on Americans. “On day one, I will immediately end all unconstitutional surveillance!” he vowed.
Many young attendees said they’d heard about Paul’s father Ron in 2012 and were eager to see the younger Paul.
“He’s kind of one of our top picks for 2016; I really like his economic policy,” said 18-year-old Malia Shirley, a Nebraska voter who drove to Iowa City for the event. She said she and her friend Ethan Frederick, 19, had followed Ron Paul in 2012 and were fans of his son already. “I really like his economic policies, they’re common sense,” Frederick, who is registered in Iowa, told msnbc.
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Shortly after the event, Paul reportedly walked out of a Guardian interview over a question he was asked. In response to what some were calling his third testy interview in the span of a week, a Paul campaign spokesman countered, telling msnbc in an email that “He didn’t walk off. The reporter said last question right before and then we had our CNN interview in the same room.”
What’s perceived as a short fuse could play well with some in his base, though. One attendee at the Paul rally said he liked that Paul gets heated with reporters.
“He speaks his opinion rather than going along with everything, definitely gets a little flustered at times which I like,” University of Iowa sophomore Austin McCartan, 20, said. “The guy’s a smart man, he’s a doctor, smarter than most people — no offense — smarter than most people who are interviewing him.”