In his first public comments since the suicide of a young man who became a staple of his speeches, Sen. Rand Paul on Tuesday talked about 22-year-old Kalief Browder in a more somber tone in Baltimore.
“I've been telling this story for about a year and a half, two years now and it makes me sad. I thought about not talking about it or doing the story again but I think this young man's memory should help us try to change things,” Paul, a 2016 presidential hopeful, told the Baltimore County GOP annual dinner.
It was the Kentucky Republican’s first foray back to the charm city since the April riots following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. At the time, Paul told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham he wanted no part of the disruptions there. “I came through the train on Baltimore (sic) last night, I'm glad the train didn't stop,” Paul told Ingraham on April 28. He blamed the violence in part on “the breakdown of the family structure, the lack of fathers, the lack of a moral code in our society.”
But Tuesday, Paul spoke with great empathy about the young man who spent the last of his teenage years locked up at Rikers Island.
While he has told the story many times before, Paul paused to compose himself this time when describing the death of the young man.
“He was arrested, accused of a crime and put in Rikers Island for three years without a trial. He spent two of those years in solitary confinement, he was beaten to a pulp by a gang in the prison, without ever being convicted of a crime! Even if you're convicted of a crime in America for goodness sakes, are we going to let people be raped and murdered and pillaged in prison just because they're convicted? He wasn't even convicted!”
First profiled in The New Yorker, Browder’s story was cited numerous times by the presidential hopeful – from the stage at the Conservative Political Action Conference to the floor of the United States Senate.
“This young man, 16 years old, imagine how his classmates feel about American justice. Imagine how his parents feel. So the thing is, until we've walked in someone else's shoes, I think we shouldn't say we can't understand the anger of people,” Paul said Tuesday. He added, “I didn't grow up poor, I grew up middle class, or upper middle class. This is me learning about how other people have to deal with life.… So when I see people angry and upset, I'm not here to excuse violence in the cities. But when I see people angry I see where some of the anger is coming from.”