Updated Sep 2, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Barr says "epidemic" of police brutality against Black people is "false narrative"

Attorney General Bill Barr denied Wednesday that there are "two justice systems" for Black and white people in the U.S., claiming in a wide-ranging interview on CNN that the idea that there is an "epidemic" of police shooting unarmed Black men is "simply a false narrative."

The big picture: Barr acknowledged that there is a "widespread phenomenon" of Black men being treated with "extra suspicion" and "maybe not being given the benefit of the doubt" by police officers, but he denied that this is the product of "systemic racism." A number of other Trump Cabinet officials and the president himself have denied that there is systemic racism in policing.

What he's saying: "I did say that I do think that there appears to be a phenomenon in the country where African Americans feel that they're treated, when they're stopped by police, frequently, as suspects before they are treated as citizens," Barr said.

  • "I don't think that that necessarily reflects some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers. I think the same kind of behavior is done by African American police officers."
  • "I think there are stereotypes. I think people operate very frequently according to stereotypes, and I think it takes extra precaution on the part of law enforcement to make sure we don't reduce people to stereotypes."

He continued: "I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently. But I don't think that that's necessarily racism."

  • "Didn't Jesse Jackson say when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of white youths walking behind him. Does that make him a racist?"

Driving the news: Barr said he would prefer not to weigh in on the case of Jacob Blake, who was shot seven times in the back by a police officer, stressing that he does not view the incident as "interchangeable" with the killing of George Floyd.

  • He said that Blake was "in the midst of committing a felony and he was armed."
  • According to the initial account released by the Wisconsin Justice Department, Blake told police officers he had a knife in his possession, and it was later recovered from the driver’s side floorboard of his car.
  • Blake's family and lawyer Ben Crump have denied that he was armed.

Of note: Crump said in an emailed statement disputing Barr’s account that the attorney general was "misinformed" and alleging the officers were "the aggressors from start to finish, based on video and witness accounts."

  • "There was never any point in time when there was justification for deadly force. In fact, there were innocent bystanders in the line of fire when he shot seven times into Jacob’s back," Crump said.
  • "At all material times, Jacob’s back was to the officers and he never posed an imminent threat. This was never a life or death situation for the officers."

Editor's note: This article has been updated with Crump's comments.

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