WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr unleashed a barrage of criticisms against the media, politicians, the “soft-on-crime” mentality and the defund the police movement, while hammering a law-and-order message during a speech in front of law enforcement leaders Friday.
“The climate today has made the job (of a police officer) 10 times more difficult. It is a climate characterized by cowardly politicians who do not support their police forces and by a deceitful national media that seizes on relatively few incidents to scapegoat police and cultivate a false narrative that our police are systemically evil,” Barr said at the Major Cities Chiefs Association Conference in New Orleans.
Barr’s remarks followed a summer of protests in several cities after the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers. His death and those of others like Breonna Taylor at the hands of police led to nationwide, months-long protests over racial injustice and police brutality and fueled calls to defund the police. Many of the protests were marred by violence, looted businesses and burned properties.
Barr, in response, sent federal officers and agents to several cities, where they repeatedly clashed with protesters. Hundreds have been arrested on federal charges, including assaulting a federal officer and arson. The attorney general has blamed far-left extremists for instigating the violence.
Separately, Barr has sent hundreds of federal officers to several cities that are struggling with rising violent crime as part of Operation Legend, a crime-fighting initiative that has led to thousands of arrests, mostly for gun and drug charges. Critics say the operation is a political ploy to help advance President Donald Trump’s law-and-order message as he seeks a second term.
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Speaking in New Orleans, Barr said the defund the police movement, or shifting funding from law enforcement to social services to address the root cause of crime, “is a false dichotomy.”
“I think everyone here today would agree that tough law enforcement cannot be the only solution. We must also address the pathologies that contribute to crime,” Barr said. “But they are not alternative approaches. They must be complementary … Law and order is the foundation of all social progress.”
If police departments are defunded, Barr said, “any idea of social progress is folly.”
Addressing calls to reform police departments, Barr said other aspects of the criminal justice system – the “so-called social justice” prosecutors and judges who are too lenient on defendants – are in greater need of change.
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“The American people need to understand that their own safety depends on them. If they want an effective criminal justice system, they are going to have to pay attention to who they elect as District Attorney,” Barr said. “They are going to have to pay attention to the judges they elect or retain. And they are going to have to select mayors who understand that public safety is the primary duty of government.”
Barr did not name mayors, but the Trump administration and has singled out cities led by Democratic mayors. Last month, the Justice Department designated New York, Portland and Seattle “anarchist jurisdictions” – cities that the Trump administration said have allowed violence to fester during months of civil demonstrations and could lose federal funding.
Barr, though, acknowledged the need for more training for police forces and for a system of accountability that weeds out bad officers while protecting those who make honest mistakes.
Barr also acknowledged the existence of excessive force, although he said such incidents are rare. He criticized the media’s reporting of killings that involve police officers, accusing the press of promoting misunderstanding of the risks that officers face during confrontations.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: William Barr: Defund the police effort, media criticized in speech