- Associated Press - Thursday, July 21, 2016

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - A state senator who’s a former sheriff condemned recent violence against police Thursday, saying he wants to look at changing state law to classify the targeting of officers as a hate crime.

In a written statement, Republican Sen. Mike Parson, of Bolivar, said, “We must stop allowing assaults and killing of law enforcement officers in the name of protesting.” Parson is running for lieutenant governor.

Later, flanked by law enforcement officials at the Missouri State Fraternal Order of Police office in Jefferson City, Parson said he supports peaceful protests.

But, he added, with national movements such as Black Lives Matter, “you will have some people that will try to be part of that protest that actually do commit crimes and will try to use that for shelter.”

“That’s what I’m saying is wrong,” said Parson, who was sheriff of Polk County from 1993 to 2004. “They should not be able to use some organization to say, ‘This is why I’m committing a crime.’”

Kayla Reed, a St. Louis activist with the Movement for Black Lives, said that during protests she’s participated in “people are not committing violent acts or crimes.”

“It’s very easy for elected officials to want to silence those people who are raising legitimate questions and concerns about the ways we are policed in our communities versus actually putting energy and focus into the problem that disproportionately affects people of color,” Reed said.

When asked how to address mistrust of police among some communities, Parson said that will take community leaders.

“I don’t think as a legislator you can fix the problem,” he said.

Bev Randles, who will face off against Parson in the upcoming Aug. 2 Republican primary for lieutenant governor, said state policies should focus on protecting police and creating “a greater sense of security” for the black community. Randles, a Kansas City attorney who is black, said that means more funding for police and greater use of police body cameras.

Parson also said he’ll review state laws and looks for ways to deter crimes against law enforcement officers. He said he’ll likely talk with Senate leaders about changing state law to classify the targeting of officers as a hate crime.

Randles criticized the concept of hate crimes, which she said is a policy backed by Democrats.

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