William Barr says police not 'systemically racist', defends attack on protesters to clear way for Trump photo-op

William Barr says police not 'systemically racist', defends attack on protesters to clear way for Trump photo-op
Donald Trump and William Barr (Getty Images)

Attorney General Bill Barr on Sunday, June 5, said law enforcement is not “systemically racist” after he came under fire for facilitating President Donald Trump’s controversial photo-op at St John’s Church last Monday, June 1. He also said that no “chemical irritants” were used to clear the protesters before Trump posed for the media’s lenses with a Bible in his hand and lectured on America’s ‘greatness’. His act at a time when the US is witnessing strong protests against the brutal killing of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis on May 25 left his administration divided. While some felt it was the need of the time to assert his leadership, others express doubts. 

Speaking with CBS’ Margaret Brennan who asked him whether he felt there is systemic racism in law enforcement, Barr said he did not. 

“I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist,” the 70-year-old Barr said during the interview with ‘Face the Nation’ in the morning. “I understand 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. 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,” he said. 

Law enforcement, Secret Service and National Guard were deployed to monitor the protests that took place around the White House after riots broke out over the tragic death of Floyd, 46. Trump and his family were even rushed to the presidential bunker at the White House briefly on May 29. The president then came out for his ‘church adventure’ for which peaceful protesters were cleared. He came under serious questioning for his act even as White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany compared him to Winston Churchill in terms of leadership. 

On June 1, shortly before Trump embarked on his journey on foot to the church, Barr was seen speaking to the law-enforcement officials in Lafayette Park. Reports later revealed that the law-keepers used pepper spray and non-lethal bullets to disperse the crowd at the church, a part of which was set on fire by the protesters in the night of May 31. Barr refused to agree that “chemical irritants” were used against the protesters. He said not pepper spray but pepper balls were used against the crowd that stationed itself between the White House and St John’s Church. 


Members of the Secret Service counter-assault team take positions as President Donald Trump posed for photographs in front of St. John's Episcopal Church on June 1, 2020, in Washington, DC. (Getty Images)

“No, there were no chemical irritants. Pepper spray is not a chemical irritant. It’s not chemical,” Barr said. Pepper balls are used to disseminate the same irritant which is used in the pepper spray but in the form of a paintball. They are filled with resin, either in the form of powder or liquid, and are derived from peppers. 
While Barr said he felt the move to use the pepper balls to clear the park was appropriate, he did not know it was going to be used for the president to take part in the church event. “As I understand it, the Park Police and the Secret Service, they were the ones who carried out the movement of the crowd back one block. And I think they used their standard crowd control protocols,” said Barr, who recently drew flak over his role in dropping charges against former national security advisor Michael Flynn


'Trump didn't want 10,000 active-duty troops on streets of DC'

The attorney general also rejected a report that claimed that the president wanted deployment of 10,000 active-duty troops on the streets of Washington DC to quell the protests earlier this week. A senior defense official told NBC News on the condition of anonymity on Saturday, June 4, that President Trump sought various soldiers at a controversial Oval Office meeting with Defense Secretary Mark Esper on June 1.

“A senior administration official told our CBS' David Martin, that in a meeting at the White House on Monday morning, the president demanded that 10,000 active-duty troops be ordered into American streets. Is that accurate?” Brennan asked Barr to which the latter replied: “No, that's completely false,' he shot back. 'That's completely false.”

It was on the same day that Trump threatened at a press conference to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act to use the military to suppress the civil disorder. His threat saw a serious impact in the military with top leaders objecting to the idea of deploying military power against protesters.


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