Almost five years to the day of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, Attorney General William Barr descended on New Orleans to deliver a major policy address. His speech dismissed police violence and espoused a dangerous vision for America — one in which ‘90s era tough-on-crime politics shape policies and pro-civil rights attitudes are derided as “anti-police.”
Speaking to the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), Barr used war analogies to describe the work of police officers, painting opponents of police brutality as a “vocal minority that regularly attacks the police.” He minimized the type of police violence and racism — like that which took Michael Brown’s life — as being the result of “a few bad apples.” This phrase has been used as code to distract from deeply systemic issues that protect and perpetuate the devaluing of Black and brown lives in the criminal legal system.
Barr suggested that the problem of police violence is with the victims for not complying with police demands — an assertion recognized as odiously false by those who followed the murders of Philando Castile and many others. He went on to disparage the new wave of reform-oriented prosecutors who won elections by espousing fair and smart justice policies as “anti-police” and “dangerous to public safety.”
Yet, to those who have seen the epidemic of police abuse and the devastating impact of mass incarceration, we know that Barr is wrong. His speech was a slap in the face to families who have suffered from police violence and to voters who have organized around and elected prosecutors committed to tackling mass incarceration. […]