May 31, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Robert O'Brien: "I don't think there's systemic racism" in law enforcement

White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien said on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that he doesn't believe there is "systemic racism" among law enforcement in the U.S., arguing that there are "a few bad apples" that are giving police a bad name.

Why it matters: The mass protests that have swept across the United States are not just a response to the death of George Floyd, but of the dozens of high-profile instances of unarmed black men dying at the hands of police officers over the years.

  • 47% of unarmed people killed by the 100 largest city police departments between 2013 and 2019 were black, according to U.S. crime data collected by
  • Minneapolis police, in particular, kill black people at a rate 13 times higher than white people — one of the largest racial disparities in the U.S.

What he's saying:

"No, I don't think there's systemic racism. I think 99.9% of our law enforcement officers are great Americans and many of them are African American, Hispanic, Asian. They're working the toughest neighborhoods, they've got the hardest jobs to do in this country. And I think they're amazing, great Americans, and they're my heroes.
But you know what, there are some bad apples in there. There are some bad cops that are racist, there are cops that maybe don't have the right training, and there are some that are just bad cops. And they need to be rooted out because there's a few bad apples that are giving law enforcement a terrible name."
— Robert O'Brien

The big picture: O'Brien said that President Trump's tweets about "vicious dogs" and "ominous weapons" greeting protestors at the White House were intended to de-escalate the situation, insisting that "we want law and order" and "peaceful protestors."

  • O'Brien repeated Attorney General Bill Barr's allegation that many of the protests are being "hijacked" by "left-wing antifa militants," though he did not provide specific evidence for the claim.
  • "Peaceful protesters are part of a great American tradition," O'Brien argued. "What we don't want to see are the armed protesters, those committing violence, those who are throwing bricks at Secret Service officers and park police last night in front at the White House, those burning down our cities and attacking the most vulnerable minority communities."

Go deeper: Black Americans' competing crises

Go deeper