WASHINGTON — Speaking to a roomful of police officers and prosecutors on Tuesday, Attorney General William Barr drew a parallel between protests against soldiers during the Vietnam War and demonstrations against law enforcement today.
But this time, he suggested, those who don’t show “respect” to authority could lose access to police services.
“Today, the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” Barr said in pointed remarks delivered at a Justice Department ceremony to honor police officers.
Barr added that “if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
Although Barr didn’t specify what “communities” he was referencing, activists decried his speech as a clear attack on minorities who have protested police brutality and other racially skewed law enforcement abuses.
“Barr’s words are as revealing as they are disturbing — flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law,” Jeb Fain, a spokesperson for liberal super PAC American Bridge, told HuffPost, which first reported on the comments.
As attorney general, Barr has attacked liberal district attorneys who have pushed for police accountability in cities like Philadelphia and St. Louis and suggested that there should be “zero tolerance for resisting police.”
Before handing out honors to police officers at Tuesday’s ceremony for the Attorney General’s Award for Distinguished Service in Policing, Barr described seeing deployed troops celebrated at airports and lamented that police aren’t more openly feted.
“When police officers roll out of their precincts every morning, there are no crowds along the highway cheering them on, and when you go home at the end of the day, there’s no ticker-tape parade,” he said, echoing virtually word-for-word comments he made in August to the Fraternal Order of Police.
The attorney general then compared police to Vietnam-era soldiers returning home to face those opposed to the conflict.
“In the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson. I remember that our brave troops who served in that conflict weren’t treated very well in many cases when they came home, and sometimes they bore the brunt of people who were opposed to the war,” he said. “The respect and gratitude owed to them was not given. And it took decades for the American people finally to realize that.”
Similarly, he suggested, Americans should stop protesting police officers “fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.”
Critics questioned Barr’s suggestion in the speech that police could stop protecting those who protest them.
“US Attorney General fails to understand police are not a protection racket,” tweeted Andrew Stroehlein, the European media director for Human Rights Watch. “(And no points for guessing which ‘communities’ he means).”
The Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to a message about Barr’s comments.