United States Attorney General William Barr responded to questions from lawmakers this week in his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee since taking office. Barr defended the Trump administration on a variety of issues, including its violent response to protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
At one point, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee asked Barr whether he “seeks to end” systemic racism in policing. Eventually the nation’s top law enforcement officer clarified his position: “I don't agree that there's systemic racism in police departments generally, in this country.”
Many pointed out that Barr’s denial of the existence of systemic racism flies in the face of information from nongovernmental groups, the Justice Department’s own data, and the lived experiences of Black people in the US.
It wasn’t the first time Barr has denied the systemic racism that people across the country have been protesting since May, in what might be the largest social movement in US history. In a June 7 interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, he said, “I think there's racism in the United States still but I don't think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist.”
Other top officials in the Trump administration have echoed this sentiment. Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf told ABC News in June, “I do not think that we have a systemic racism problem with law enforcement officers across this country."
National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien, White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow, and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson have all denied that systemic racism in law enforcement is a major issue.
Human Rights Watch has been documenting systemic racism in US policing for decades. In the 2019 report “Get on the Ground,” we shared evidence of rampant racial bias in the Tulsa Police Department – including a disproportionate rate of police violence against Black residents – which demonstrates the larger human rights problems with policing throughout the country.
US government officials, and particularly those tasked with protecting communities, should work to dismantle systemic racism in law enforcement, not deny its existence. Eradicating racism in policing would be a step toward ending serious injustices that keep bringing protesters to the streets.