Attorney General Bill Barr said Sunday that he does not believe that there is systemic racism in the nation’s police force, contradicting a staggering body of evidence that shows racial bias in virtually every part of the American criminal justice system. Barr’s comments echo sentiments made by others in the Trump administration amid nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd while in police custody.
“I think there’s racism in the United States still, but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” Barr told CBS’s Face the Nation on Sunday. “I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community, given the history in this country.”
Barr went on to say that the country’s institutions, such as law enforcement, “were explicitly racist” for most of U.S. history, but added that sufficient reform has been made within the last 60 years.
“I think the reform is a difficult task, but I think it is working and progress has been made,” Barr said. Asked about the officers who have committed police brutality, Barr suggested that they are few.
“We have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten. All organizations have people who engage in misconduct, and you sometimes have to be careful as for when you ascribe that to the whole organization and when it really is some errant member who isn’t following the rules,” he said.
Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, and Ben Carson, the secretary of housing and urban development, made similar comments in separate interviews Sunday, as did White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien in an interview last week.
“I do not think that we have a systemic racism problem with law enforcement officers across this country,” Wolf said on ABC News’ This Week. “Do I acknowledge that there are some law enforcement officers that abuse their job? Yes. And again, we need to hold those accountable.”
Carson, when asked the same question in an interview with CNN’s State of the Union, answered: “I grew up at a time when there was real systemic racism.”
The comments from Barr, Wolf, Carson and O’Brien come amid nationwide protests against the violent deaths of Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police.
Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a former police chief, responded to Wolf’s comments in an interview with ABC News on Sunday, insisting, “We have a lot of work to do, and systemic racism is always the ghost in the room.”
Demings added: “What we have to do as a nation is hold police accountable, provide the necessary oversight to do that, look at training standards, look at use-of-force policies, look at who we are hiring, look at diversity within those agencies and come together and create legislation that will support initiatives like that.”