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August 2019, Week 3

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 		 [ Barr’s call for absolute compliance with unjust police
commands can basically be read as a license to kill. ]
[https://portside.org/] 

 ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR'S LICENSE TO KILL  
[https://portside.org/2019-08-17/attorney-general-barrs-license-kill] 

 

 Roy L. Austin Jr 
 August 16, 2019
The Hill
[https://thehill.com/opinion/criminal-justice/457737-attorney-general-barrs-license-to-kill]


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 _ Barr’s call for absolute compliance with unjust police commands
can basically be read as a license to kill. _ 

 US Attorney General William Barr, AP Photo/Andrew Harnik 

 

Dishonest. While the words “misleading,” “biased, ” or
“partisan” might also work, dishonest is the word that best
describes the speech
[https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-william-p-barr-delivers-remarks-grand-lodge-fraternal-order-polices-64th]
Attorney General William Barr
[https://thehill.com/people/william-barr] gave to the Fraternal Order
of Police this week. Many missed the disturbing point of the speech,
because they were more concerned with the few lines about the death of
alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein on Barr’s watch
[https://www.newsweek.com/william-barr-probe-jeffrey-epstein-death-irregularities-prison-deeply-concerning-1453841].
But to be sure, it was a dishonest broadside against much of the
criminal justice reform effort that Republican and Democratic state
and local governments – as well as bipartisan alliances in Congress
– have been engaged in for the last few years.

The audience was not a surprise. The Fraternal Order of Police (FOP)
and its local organizations, largely white male
[https://www.thenation.com/article/the-fraternal-order-of-police-must-go/]
organizations, have vocally opposed virtually all criminal justice
reform efforts. Despite enormous financial and technical assistance to
law enforcement, the FOP largely created the false narrative that the
administration of President Obama created a “war on cops
[https://www.politico.com/story/2016/07/obama-war-on-cops-police-advocacy-group-225291],”
largely because of efforts to ensure compliance with the Constitution
through consent decrees and other police reforms
[https://www.justice.gov/crt/page/file/922456/download]. In New York,
the police union head announced
[https://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/17520/police_unions_racist]
that he was “sick and tired of giving in to minority groups, with
their whims and their gripes and shouting.” In Chicago, where an
officer shot and killed Laquan McDonald and lied about it, an FOP
member declared
[https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/retired-chicago-cop-filmed-saying-slain-teen-laquan-mcdonald-shot-16-times-threat-community-120855229.html]
that the officers  “should’ve shot [McDonald] 18 [times].” 

Shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, the FOP sent him a
list of reforms
[https://talkingpointsmemo.com/livewire/fraternal-order-of-police-trump-first-100-days]
it wanted, and President Trump
[https://thehill.com/people/donald-trump] has mostly complied. Barr
knew his audience and basically gave a campaign speech
[https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/65ce/ec910234d1756e6e328f953d92f84251f615.pdf].

Let’s start with the tired trope of “just a few bad apples.” The
question is not whether most law enforcement officers are good people
who have volunteered to do courageous and dangerous work. That is a
fact, as shown most spectacularly by what just happened
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/08/14/multiple-police-officers-wounded-active-philadelphia-shootout-officials-say/]
in Philadelphia.  The issue is that too many law enforcement officers
engage in criminal conduct and take actions that call into question
their fairness and fitness for their jobs— from murder
[https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/walter-scott-shooting/walter-scott-shooting-michael-slager-ex-officer-sentenced-20-years-n825006]
to rape
[https://www.cnn.com/2016/01/21/us/oklahoma-city-officer-daniel-holtzclaw-rape-sentencing/index.html]
to possession of child porn
[https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2019-07-25/former-lapd-officer-sentenced-in-child-pornography-case]
to offensive social media posts
[https://www.plainviewproject.org/data], to laughing while a man dies
[https://www.huffpost.com/entry/tony-timpa-dallas-police-body-camera_n_5d42ac68e4b0ca604e2d10f8]
under their restraint, to celebrating the Ku Klux Klan
[https://www.foxnews.com/us/michigan-cop-on-leave-application-kkk-found]. 

By doing so they cast a shadow on the far larger segment of law
enforcement personnel who have integrity and are the essence of public
service. There are people from all walks of lives who engage in
criminal conduct and are not fit for their jobs. But the difference is
that others do not have the authority to instantly take someone’s
life or liberty. With great power comes great responsibility. With
great power comes the absolute need to dissect the conduct of officers
when it leads to death—something Barr criticized.

Barr’s call for absolute compliance with unjust police commands can
basically be read as a license to kill. The DOJ’s Civil Rights
Division used to provide comprehensive reports
[https://www.justice.gov/sites/default/files/opa/press-releases/attachments/2015/03/04/doj_report_on_shooting_of_michael_brown_1.pdf]
to explain declinations in high-profile police-involved fatalities. It
appears that these are no longer necessary because Barr made it clear
that he intends to overrule the career employees
[https://www.cnn.com/2019/07/16/politics/eric-garner-william-barr-nypd-officer-daniel-pantaleo/index.html]
of the Division if the officers faced any non-compliance, regardless
of the kind of non-compliance or the amount of force used. 

While the Eric Garner case is the most recent example, it is
noteworthy that the Civil Rights Division has not brought
[https://www.justice.gov/crt/criminal-section-news] a single new
prosecution in a police use of force case in the six months since Barr
has sat atop the Department.

Barr takes particular issue with the newer crop of duly-elected reform
prosecutors. His is a specious critique considering the Republican
Party claims  to believe in local rule and autonomy. And, it should
be noted that Barr has never actually
[https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/William%20Barr%20Senate%20Questionnaire%20(PUBLIC).pdf]
personally prosecuted a case or done a jury trial, criminal or civil
—ever.

Without any evidence, Barr told the FOP that reform prosecutors will
lead to more crime. The fact is that prosecutors are seeing drops in
crime. They are working to ensure that members of their communities
are being treated fairly regardless of race or income and using their
discretion to not criminalize low-level offenses and conduct that is
better handled by the health care system.

In Chicago, for example, violent crime has dropped by 8 percent
[https://theappeal.org/in-chicago-rethinking-the-link-between-crime-and-incarceration/]
under State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, who has smartly moved resources
from low-level enforcement to address violence. In many ways, the
movement to reduce incarceration was led by conservative states like
Texas
[https://oklahoman.com/article/5604318/how-tough-on-crime-texas-lowered-its-prison-population-and-what-oklahoma-can-learn-from-it]
that saw that they could reduce both crime and incarceration. And if
Barr truly cares about family stability, as his Moynihan Report
[https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/09/the-moynihan-report-an-annotated-edition/404632/]-esque
complaints seem to indicate, one would think that he would be looking
for ways to keep all families together by reducing unnecessary
incarceration.

Barr irresponsibly and inaccurately blamed officer injuries on
movements and organizations that call attention to police brutality by
noting that officer injuries rose to 60,000 in 2017. Barr provides no
evidence of this claim. He must have forgotten that Donald Trump was
president for almost all of 2017. 

In fact, officer fatalities due to assault, the only truly credible
data set on this issue, were lower
[https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/09/police-are-safer-under-obama-than-they-have-been-in-decades/]
under President Obama than under any of the four prior presidential
administrations. At the height of the Black Lives Matter movement
following the killing of Michael Brown in August 2014 and in 2015,
“only” 50,000
[https://ucr.fbi.gov/leoka/2015/officers-assaulted/assaults_topic_page_-2015]
officers were assaulted. So it seems President Trump’s return of
“law and order” rhetoric is the cause of more officer injuries. 

Barr’s speech is a slap in the face of the bipartisan effort
[https://thehill.com/homenews/senate/421795-senate-votes-to-end-debate-on-criminal-justice-reform-bill]
to reduce the number of people that our country is locking up.
Barr’s speech was not only dishonest; it was also wrong and
dangerous.   

_Roy L. Austin, Jr. is a former deputy assistant to the president for
urban affairs, justice & opportunity, a former deputy assistant
attorney general in the Department of Justice, and a former federal
prosecutor._

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