POLITICS
01/28/2016 11:19 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2016

There Was Something Missing From The GOP's 'Debate' On Criminal Justice Reform

Does it count as a debate when it's just one person talking?

The first YouTube question at the GOP debate Thursday night went to Mark Watson, an Army veteran who typically video-blogs about technology. He pressed the candidates on police accountability, specifically wondering why body camera technology continues to lag so far behind the basic capabilities of civilian smartphones.

"As an African-American living near Ferguson, I've seen the strain between police officers and the communities they serve firsthand," Watson said. "Now, there are great tools like body cameras to protect both officers and citizens, but we all currently have better cameras in our pockets than in our precincts. Why aren't we using the technology available to better protect our communities?"

The debate moderators turned to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul for an answer. Paul, the only GOP candidate who has made racial equality and criminal justice reform asignificant part of his campaign, noted that he'd introduced a bill on body cameras, before quickly pivoting into his stump speech. He spoke about the need to end the racist war on drugs, to reform harsh sentencing schemes and to scale back the system of municipal fines that has victimized citizens in cities like Ferguson, Missouri.

"One thing I discovered in Ferguson was that a third of the budget for the city of Ferguson was being reaped by civil fines," said Paul. "People were just being fined to death."

But he said nothing specific about police or body cameras, which, as Watson noted in his question, have only been adopted by a few major cities in the U.S.

When Paul wrapped up his brief remarks, the moderators tossed to commercial. There was no follow-up or further conversation from the rest of the candidates, who may have actually had something interesting, or at least less predictable, to say on the issue. And thus concluded the evening's debate -- if you can call it that -- on criminal justice reform.

 

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