Attorney General Bill Barr talks protests and racism with “Face the Nation” moderator Margaret Brennan
MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you believe there is systemic racism in law enforcement? BARR: I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the- the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist. They denied equal rights to African-Americans– MARGARET BRENNAN: Where are they now? BARR: –first under slavery, then under Jim Crow. I think since the- the abolition of Jim Crow laws, which really didn’t get struck down completely until the 1960s, I think since that time- and- and so as a result of that, you know, the civil rights movement was largely going, you know, battling these institutions that were imposing racism. Since the 1960s, I think we’ve been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they’re in sync with our laws and aren’t fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities. MARGARET BRENNAN: And you think that’s working? BARR: I think- I think the reform is a difficult task, but I think it is working and progress has been made. I think one of the best examples is the military. The military used to be explicitly racist institution. And now I think it’s in the vanguard of- of bringing the races together and providing equal opportunity. I think law enforcement has been going through the same process. And while it’s a difficult process and while law enforcement is not monolithic in this country, we have 50 states on a lot of local jurisdictions. There’s undeniable that progress is being made. We have a generation of police- police leaders in this country, many of whom are now African-American in our major cities, who are firmly committed to equal justice and to fair policing. And we’ve been working hard on this. And I would say, you know, the president, before any of this happened, was out in front on this issue. Not only did he enact the First Step Act to bring greater justice to the African-American community within the criminal justice system, but he set up the first commission on policing and the administration of the Justice since Lyndon Johnson to look at precisely these issues. And they have been working on these issues. And in the days and weeks ahead, we’re going to be expanding those efforts and coming forward with concrete proposals. MARGARET BRENNAN: I take your point that it- it’s not a monolithic system, but the Justice Department is the backstop for a lot of these local governments. When it comes to the issue of biased policing, the Trump administration’s Justice Department has only opened one pattern-or-practice investigation into law enforcement agencies. The past three administrations combined had almost 70. Why hasn’t this issue been a bigger priority? BARR: Well, people- if you’re skeptical that progress has been made and you have to wonder what was the results of those 70 consent decrees and pattern and practice investigations. Either progress is being made or it isn’t. And from our experience and greater academic research is showing this to be true, that- that you can actually get more focused change and more real change by working in more collaboration with the police. I saw that Mayor Emanuel, Rahm Emanuel, said, you know, recently that investigations should be done with police, not to police to have any real effect. And we’ve been doing that. We- we- we are working with police departments to address use of force policies, personnel policies, standards and practices. And we- and we feel that we can make good progress that way without the collateral effects that some of these consent decrees have. There’s been a recent study that’s been talked about from Harvard that indicates that some of these- the collateral consequences of these have been to- to make the police pull back and actually lead to more death, more murders, more crime. So we have to be prudent in how we approach this.