As violence flares in a St. Louis suburb amid protests over the police shooting of a black teen, a backlash is growing among Washington lawmakers against police using intense military force in an attempt to squash the demonstrations.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat who represents Missouri, said police are now feeding the violence.
“This kind of response by the police has become the problem instead of the solution,” she said Thursday in a statement. “I obviously respect law enforcement’s work to provide public safety, but my constituents are allowed to have peaceful protests, and the police need to respect that right and protect that right.”
Protests began Monday in the streets of Ferguson after a black 18-year-old, Michael Brown, was killed by police over the weekend. He was reportedly unarmed.
Protests spawned looting, and police have responded with force, using tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue crowds. Gatherers claim they are holding peaceful demonstrations.
Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, said Thursday there is a “systematic problem with today’s law enforcement.”
Mr. Paul, in a column written for Time.com, decried “the militarization of local police” and said the federal government is to blame for helping fund what he described as “essentially small armies” with police packing the type of equipment generally used on a battlefield.
“If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off,” Mr. Paul wrote. “But I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”
Mr. Paul said the problem becomes even worse when civil liberties are eroded, allowing the police to “become the judge and jury.”
“Anyone who thinks that race does not still, even if inadvertently, skew the application of criminal justice in this country is just not paying close enough attention,” Mr. Paul wrote.
Police have also drawn criticism for arresting two reporters Wednesday night and dismantling TV equipment. The reporters were later released without being charged, but said they were roughed up by officers.
President Obama, speaking Thursday from Martha’s Vineyard where he is vacationing, reprimanded law enforcement saying “there’s no excuse” for police to use excessive force against peacefully assembled protesters.
“Put simply, we all need to hold ourselves to a higher standard — particularly, those of us in positions of authority,” Mr. Obama said.
In a Facebook post Thursday morning, Sen. Ted Cruz condemned police for targeting journalists who were “simply doing their jobs.” Mr. Cruz, Texas Republican, issued a general plea for calm.
Other lawmakers have pointed out eerie similarities between the protests in Ferguson and race riots during the civil rights movement over 50 years ago.