A roomful of potential rogue cops and prosecutors breathed a sigh of relief Tuesday after the chief law enforcement officer in America issued a thinly veiled threat to black communities, hinting that law enforcement officers might stop protecting people who don’t want to get shot in the face.
Speaking at a ceremony for the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in policing, Huffpost reports that Ukrainian quid pro quo co-conspirator (try saying that three times) William Barr told a gathering of police officers and prosecutors that communities who don’t demonstrate appreciation and “respect” for America’s cops might be in danger of losing the protection of law enforcement.
“They have to start showing more of the support and they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” said Barr, his bulldog-like jowls quivering to and fro. “And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
Before you start priming your outrage engine (mine starts up like an old school lawnmower), maybe he’s not talking about black people. It is entirely possible that he’s referencing the white communities who support Black Lives Matter and protest police brutality by holding silent vigils in the comfort of their homes. Everyone likes to talk about Ferguson and Baltimore, but you can’t just ignore the protests in Calabasas and Beverly Hills, where white America showed their allyship by doing absolutely nothing.
OK, that may be a long shot. After all, the vast majority of white Americans believe police treat all races fairly and that police brutality is rare.
This is not Barr’s first time showing disdain for America’s tradition of protest. While The Root could not find a single remark by Barr condemning far-right extremism or white supremacy (he tepidly mentioned hate crimes here), he has made numerous remarks about the right of valiant police officers to kick your ass:
Despite the fact that the majority of the American people do support the police, unfortunately, over the past few years, there has been an increasingly vocal minority that regularly attacks the police and advances a narrative that it is the police that are the bad guys rather than the criminals. Whenever there is a confrontation involving the use of force by police, they automatically start screaming for the officers’ scalps, regardless of the facts.
The anti-police narrative is fanning disrespect for the law. In recent years, we have witnessed increasing toleration of the notion that it is somehow okay to resist the police.
Not too long ago influential public voices — whether in the media or among community and civic leaders — stressed the need to comply with police commands, even if one thinks they are unjust. “Comply first” and, if you think you have been wronged, “complain later.” But we don’t hear this much anymore. Instead, when an incident escalates due to a suspect’s violent resistance to police, that fact is usually ignored by the commentary. The officer’s every action is dissected, but the suspect’s resistance, and the danger it posed, frequently goes without mention.
We need to get back to basics. We need public voices, in the media and elsewhere, to underscore the need to “Comply first, and, if warranted, complain later.” This will make everyone safe – the police, suspects, and the community at large. And those who resist must be prosecuted for that crime. We must have zero tolerance for resisting police. This will save lives. We are seeing disrespect for law enforcement in other ways. We were all nauseated by the spectacle of prancing punks pelting New York police officers with water and plastic buckets.
All those remarks came from one speech.
“Attorney General Barr is telling communities across the country to bow their heads in respect to police even if those same police are violating their rights and killing people without justification,” said Jeffery Robinson of the ACLU’s Trone Center for Justice and Equality. “Communities of color around the country are consistently being abused by their police departments without receiving the type of public safety benefits that Attorney General Barr described. Police work for communities, not the other way around.”
Or maybe that was not a threat. Hopefully, it was a promise.
Barr’s remarks underscore the conservative conflation of people who are anti-police violence with people who are anti-police. Contrary to the attorney general’s ignorant and duplicitous statement, black communities do not hate cops. They hate corrupt cops. But, because of men like Barr who refuse to hold rogue police accountable, it is impossible for black communities to differentiate between bad cops and good cops. Unlike law enforcement officers, black America does not get to arbitrarily eliminate a threat when we “fear for our lives.” We just die.
While some might attribute Barr’s stance to the Trump administration’s penchant for white nationalist policy, Barr’s advocacy against the black community extends more than a quarter-century, when the young prosecutor wrote a policy paper (pdf) advocating anti-black policies such as:
- Treating juvenile offenders as adults
- Widening mandatory minimum sentencing to all violent crimes
- Expanding the death penalty
- Challenging habeas corpus rules
- Indefinitely detaining suspects before they are convicted of crimes
- Building more prisons
His policy suggestions were eventually incorporated into a report that was released in the early days of the Clinton administration. The position paper included an entire section on why the government should focus on arresting and convicting more black males, arguing:
Many well intentioned people argue that we are incarcerating too many blacks, particularly young black men. Some argue that reducing the numbers of blacks in prison is more important than pushing tough law enforcement policies — indeed, that tough law enforcement has the effect, and perhaps the intent, of putting more blacks in prison.
That is a literal fucking quote.
That report strongly influenced the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Enforcement Act, written by then-Senator Joe Biden and signed by President Bill Clinton, which would fuel the growth in prisons, enforce mandatory minimums for drug crimes and initiate the dreaded “three strikes” policy that Clinton now admits was a mistake but Biden still defends.
The name of that 1992 report?