Attorney General William Barr revealed Wednesday that he believes the country has “a widespread phenomenon” of African American men being unduly treated poorly by the police, adding that “it’s something we have to address.”
“I do think it is a widespread phenomenon that African American males, in particular, are treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt,” Barr explained to ABC News correspondent Pierre Thomas. “I think it is wrong if people are not respected appropriately and given their due,” he added, “and I think it’s something we have to address.”
Barr said that George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis had affected his outlook on the situation.
“Before the George Floyd incident I thought we were in a good place,” he stated. “I think that this episode in Minneapolis showed that we still have some work to do in addressing the distrust that exists in the African American community toward law enforcement.”
Studies have found that police are more likely to use non-lethal force when a suspect is African American or Hispanic compared to when a suspect is white, but that police are no more likely to shoot an unarmed suspect if that person is a person of color.
Barr revealed that the Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into the narcotics unit of the Springfield, Mass., police found “a department that was engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force.”
But he argued that pushes to “defund the police” in the wake of Floyd’s death and widespread protests were misguided.
“We have to think about more investment in the police,” he explained. “So one of the things we’ve been talking about is trying to direct some of the [Health and Human Services] money and grant programs and sync it up with law enforcement spending so we can enable the departments to have co-responders. That is, social workers and mental health experts who can go on certain kinds of calls to help.”
Barr also pushed back on the narrative surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that while “all human life is sacred and entitled to respect, and obviously black lives matter,” claims of African Americans being murdered by police overlooked the impact of black-on-black violence.
“It is distorting the debate to some extent, because it is used really to refer almost exclusively to black lives that are lost to police misconduct,” he said. “Then you compare it to 8,000 homicides in the African American community, those are black lives that matter, too. And those are lives that are protected by the police.”