AG Bill Barr: It’s Very Rare for an Unarmed Black Person to Be Shot by a White Officer

By Melanie Arter | September 2, 2020 | 7:49pm EDT
Attorney General Bill Barr (Photo by CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
Attorney General Bill Barr (Photo by CHIP SOMODEVILLA/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Attorney General Bill Barr said Wednesday that it’s a false narrative to think that there is an “epidemic” of police shooting unarmed black men, because white officers shooting “unarmed” black people is a rare occurrence and the narrative that such shootings are based on race is also false.

In an interview with CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer,” the attorney general acknowledged that “there appears to be a phenomenon in the country where African-Americans feel that they’re treated when they're stopped by police frequently as suspects before they are treated as citizens.”


However, Barr said that’s not because of “some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers,” because even black officers do it. Instead, he suggested it’s because of “stereotypes.”

“I don't think that that necessarily reflects some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers. I think the same kind of behavior is done by African American police officers. I think there are stereotypes. I think people operate very frequently according to stereotypes and I think it takes extra precaution on the part of law enforcement to make sure we don't reduce people to stereotypes, we treat them as individuals,” he said.

The attorney general said he doesn’t think there are two justice systems.

“I think the narrative that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that's based on race. The fact of the matter is very rare for an unarmed African-American to be shot by a white police officer. There were 10 cases last year, six of them the suspect was attacking the police officer physically. So these are rare things compared to the 7 to 8,000 young black men who are killed every year,” Barr said.

Host Wolf Blitzer noted that the attorney general has said there’s no systemic racism in the justice system among the police, but that there is a “widespread phenomenon” that black men in particular “are treated with extra suspicion” and not necessarily given the benefit of the doubt.

“That's what I just said,” the attorney said.

“But doesn't that sound like systemic racism? Blitzer asked.

“No. To me the word ‘systemic’ means that it's built into the institution, and I don't think that's true. I think our institutions have been reformed in the past 60 years, and if anything has been built in, it's a bias to nondiscrimination and safeguards against that,” the attorney general said.

“That's what I'm reacting to on systemic, and also I think we have to be careful about throwing the idea of racism around. Racism usually means, you know, that I believe that because of your race you're a lesser human being than me, and I think there are people in the United States that feel that way, but I don't think it is as common as people suggest,” Barr said.

“And I think we have safeguards to ensure that it doesn't really have an effect to someone's future. I think we've made a lot of progress in the past 60 years. To listen to the American left nowadays, you'd think we've gotten nowhere,” he said.

When asked if he thinks black people are treated differently by police than whites, Barr said, “I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently, but I don't think that that's necessarily racism. Didn't Jesse Jackson say when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of white youths. Does that make him a racist?”

“It sounds like there are two systems, one for blacks, one for whites. That sounds like there is still racism in the justice system,” Blitzer said.

“No. I think we have to make sure that stereotypes do not govern our actions in the justice system, and I think police departments do a pretty good job of trying to police against that, and I think progress -- there's more progress being made and more reform. and we're going about that, but the demonization of the police and the idea that this is so widespread an epidemic is simply wrong,” the attorney general said.

Barr was asked whether he agreed with President Donald Trump’s analogy comparing the Jacob Blake shooting to a “golfer choking and missing a three-foot putt.”

The attorney general said the shootings are not racially motivated but more likely because officers are “wrestling with somebody” and end up doing something that can later be considered “excessive.”

“No, I think what the president was saying there, and it's something that I think should be said and has to be said, that in many of these shooting situations, it is not because of race,” he said.

“It's because the officer is scared for his life and is in a situation where a half a second can mean the difference between his life and his death, and he's wrestling with somebody, and they sometimes may do things that appear in hindsight to be excessive. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's racism,” Barr said.

Below is a partial transcript of the interview:


BARR: Now I did say that I do think that there appears to be a phenomenon in the country where African-Americans feel that they're treated when they're stopped by police frequently as suspects before they are treated as citizens. I don't think that that necessarily reflects some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers. I think the same kind of behavior is done by African American police officers. I think there are stereotypes. I think people operate very frequently according to stereotypes and I think it takes extra precaution on the part of law enforcement to make sure we don't reduce people to stereotypes, we treat them as individuals. 

BLITZER: Because on this program, Jacob Blake Sr., the father said there were two justice systems in our country, one that shot his son seven times in the back and one that let the 17-year-old white gunman walk away after shooting and killing two people. Your reaction? 

BARR: Well, I think the gunman escaped, and the government of Wisconsin is seeking his extradition. 

BLITZER: But are there two justice systems here in the United States? 

BARR: No. I don't think there are two justice systems. I think the narrative that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that's based on race. The fact of the matter is very rare for an unarmed African-American to be shot by a white police officer. There were ten cases last year, six of them the suspect was attacking the police officer physically. So these are rare things compared to the 7 to 8,000 young black men who are killed every year. 

BLITZER: Because you've said you don't believe there is systemic racism in our justice system among the police, but you did say this. You did say I do think it is a widespread phenomenon that African-American males in particular are treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt. 

BARR: That's what I just said. 

BLITZER: But doesn't that sound like systemic racism? 

BARR: No. To me the word "systemic" means that it's built into the institution. And I don't think that's true. I think our institutions have been reformed in the past 60 years. And if anything has been built in, it's a biased and nondiscrimination and safeguards against that. That's what I'm reacting to on systemic. And also I think we have to be careful about throwing the idea of racism around. Racism usually means, you know, that I believe that because of your race you're a lesser human being than me. And I think there are people in the United States that feel that way. But I don't think it is as common as people suggest. And I think we have safeguards to ensure that it doesn't really have an effect to someone's future. I think we've made a lot of progress in the past 60 years. To listen to the American left nowadays, you'd think we've gotten nowhere. 

BLITZER: There's no doubt there's been a lot of progress, but do you think black people are treated differently by law enforcement than white people? 

BARR: I think there are some situations where statistics would suggest that they are treated differently. But I don't think that that's necessarily racism. Didn't Jesse Jackson say when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of white youths. Does that make him a racist? 

BLITZER: It sounds like there are two systems, one for blacks, one for whites. That sounds like there is still racism in the justice system. 

BARR: No. I think we have to make sure that stereotypes do not govern our actions in the justice system, and I think police departments do a pretty good job of trying to police against that. And I think progress -- there's more progress being made and more reform and we're going about that, but the demonization of the police and the idea that this is so widespread an epidemic is simply wrong. 

BLITZER: On Monday night, president trump compared the police shootings, like Jacob Blake's, for example, in his words to golfer choking and missing a three-foot putt. Is that how you view police shootings? Like a golfer missing a three-foot putt?

BARR: No, I think what the president was saying there, and it's something that I think should be said and has to be said, that in many of these shooting situations, it is not because of race. It's because the officer is scared for his life and is in a situation where a half a second can mean the difference between his life and his death, and he's wrestling with somebody, and they sometimes may do things that appear in hindsight to be excessive. It doesn't necessarily mean that it's racism. 

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