Attorney General William Barr on Wednesday criticized what he called “extreme reactions that have demonized police” in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, which he blamed for “a significant increase in violent crime in many cities.”
Barr was speaking at the White House beside President Donald Trump, who announced he will “surge” federal law enforcement officers to Chicago and other American cities in an expansion of the Justice Department program known as Operation Legend.
“We had that terrible death in Minneapolis,” Barr said, referring to Floyd’s death in police custody, “but then we had this extreme reaction that has demonized police and called for the defunding of police departments. And what we have seen then is a significant increase in violent crime in many cities. And this rise is a direct result of the attack on the police forces and the weakening of police forces.”
Earlier in his remarks, Barr alluded to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has called for protests against police brutality. “The leading cause of death for young Black males is homicide,” the attorney general said. “Every one of those lives matter.”
The comments fall in line with Barr’s public posture since Floyd’s death in May. Casting himself as a law-and-order man, the attorney general has used speeches to show firm support for police and for quelling unrest rather than for the peaceful message advocating law enforcement reforms.
The most forceful example of his approach came last month, when Barr ordered authorities to clear peaceful protesters outside the White House, observing the demonstrators from a distance within Lafayette Square, the park adjacent to the White House where protesters had previously gathered.
Security forces cleared out the demonstrators with deterrents such as pepper balls. Minutes later, Trump would walk across the area previously occupied by security forces and demonstrators to a nearby historic church, flanked by advisers and Secret Service, to pose for a photo while holding a Bible.
Still, Barr acknowledged after that episode that Floyd’s death had “driven home” a long-standing breakdown in the criminal justice system.
“George Floyd’s death was not the first of its kind and it exposes concerns that reach far beyond this particular case. While the vast majority of police officers do their job bravely and righteously, it is undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system,” he said last month.
“This must change.”
CNN’s Maegan Vazquez, Evan Perez, Paul LeBlanc and David Shortell contributed to this report.