U.S. Attorney General William Barr raised eyebrows during a police awards ceremony Tuesday evening, saying “communities” that don’t sufficiently “show respect” to law enforcement authorities could subsequently be deprived of police protection. As the nation’s top law enforcement officer, legal experts were appalled by what many saw as a veiled threat against police protestors and, more specifically, communities of color.
“Today, the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers,” Barr said.
“And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” Barr said. “And If communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need,” he added.
At this event, Barr honored the late Det. William Maldonado and 19 others with the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing. Maldonado heroically helped take down MS-13 gang members while he was fighting cancer.
Just prior to making the controversial comments, Barr spoke about the Vietnam War, likening the mistreatment of the era’s soldiers and combat veterans to the currently plight faced by police officers.
“Barr’s divisive comments are unworthy of an AG,” former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade wrote in response to Barr’s remarks. “We should all be grateful for the sacrifices and service of police officers, but misconduct should be called out and addressed. Blind devotion is not a requirement for receiving police service.”
MSNBC legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah took a similarly biting tone in criticizing Barr, urging people from both sides of the political divide to condemn Barr’s assertion that the law is dependent upon a sufficient showing of respect.
“These are despicable & dangerous comments from the AG, who leads law enforcement,” Rocah wrote. “Everyone, no matter your party, should denounce this immediately.”
During his DOJ tenure, Barr has repeatedly attacked Democratic district attorneys on the state level for their attempts to curtail policing abuses while supporting a “’zero tolerance” policy for resisting arrest.
Joyce White Vance, the third former federal prosecutor to castigate the Attorney General, said Barr’s concept of community policing directly contradicted the spirit of the ceremony he was invited to address.
“I’ve been to this awards ceremony in past years & watched police officers from my community, who take their oaths to serve seriously, receive awards for working to deserve community trust. Barr’s views have no place in law enforcement,” she wrote.
Other lawyers saw something more sinister at work.
The President and Director-Counsel the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Sherrilyn Ifill said Barr’s remarks were “appalling” and “unacceptable,” and represented an affront to American democracy.
“The obligation of public officers – whether police, the AG, or the President – to fulfill the oath and requirements of their office is not contingent on an acquiescent, unquestioning public. Not in a democracy,” Ifill wrote.
Noting that the Department of Justice under both Jeff Sessions and Barr ceased investigating police officers accused of civil rights violations, she contended that Barr had already abandoned numerous communities through the abdication of his statutory responsibility.
“This Administration’s DOJ has been an absolute disaster in using its leadership role and power to address unconstitutional policing. This latest statement degrades law enforcement officers and threatens communities [with] retaliation for insisting on lawful & humane policing.”
It’s the second time recently that Barr’s public remarks at an event sparked controversy.
[Image via BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images]
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