AG Barr says law enforcement isn't systemically racist as protests against police brutality continue

Key Points
  • Barr also said the president has the authority to unilaterally send in active duty troops to quell social unrest even if the governors oppose it. 
  • The attorney general said troops should be used as a last resort. 
  • Trump threatened Monday to invoke the 1807 Insurrection Act in response to protests and widespread social unrest over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a Minneapolis police officer filmed kneeling on his neck. 
US President Donald Trump holds up a Bible as he gestures, alongside US Attorney General William Barr (L), White House national security adviser Robert O'Brien (2nd-L) and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, outside of St John's Episcopal church across Lafayette Park in Washington, DC on June 1, 2020.

As massive protesting calling for the end of racism and police violence continue across the nation, Attorney General Bill Barr on Sunday said he doesn't think the country's law enforcement is systemically racist and said the president has the authority to unilaterally send in active duty troops to protests even if the governors oppose it. 

"The president can use regular troops to suppress rioting," Barr said on CBS, citing the Insurrection Act, which was last used during the 1992 Los Angeles riots over the acquittal of three police officers who violently beat Rodney King,  black man who was unarmed.

The Insurrection Act allows a president to call upon active-duty military units or federalize the National Guard. Trump threatened Monday to invoke the law in response to protests and widespread social unrest over the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, by a Minneapolis police officer filmed kneeling on Floyd's neck. 

Barr said he supports such a move "as a last resort" to restore law and order if people's lives and property are in danger. This week, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said he doesn't support invoking the Insurrection Act and California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he would reject any effort by the Trump administration to use it in California.

Demonstrators and police face off on the sixth consecutive day of protests over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died last week after being pinned down by a white police officer in Minneapolis on June 3, 2020 in Washington, DC, United States.
Yasin Ozturk | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Over the last 13 days of demonstrations, police officers have used violent tactics against protesters including targeting people with tear gas and rubber bullets. Most demonstrations have been peaceful, while some have erupted into chaos and violence resulting in looting and property destruction.

Protests have taken place in virtually every major city in the U.S., with some of the largest demonstrations in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago and Minneapolis, the city where Floyd was killed. 

Asked if he thinks there is systemic racism in law enforcement, Barr said he thinks there's racism in the U.S. but the law enforcement system is not systemically racist, and that the U.S. is still undergoing a difficult, decades-long process of reforming institutions to be more equitable. 

"I understand the distrust, however, of the African-American community given the history in this country. I think we have to recognize that for most of our history, our institutions were explicitly racist," he said.

Barr said he doesn't believe in the need for reduced immunity in law enforcement to go after "bad" cops who use unnecessary violence against people.

"I think that there are instances of bad cops," he said. "And I think we have to be careful about automatically assuming that the actions of an individual necessarily mean that their organization is rotten."

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf echoed Barr on Sunday when he told ABC News that U.S. law enforcement has no issue with systemic racism. 

"Do I acknowledge that there are law enforcement officers that abuse their job? Yes, and we need to hold those accountable," Wolf said during an interview on "This Week."

Wolf said that the police officers involved in Floyd's death on May 25 have been arrested and have had charges filed against them, and that President Trump has directed the Department of Justice to launch a civil rights investigation into the incident. He said "the outrage" Americans are feeling is "legitimate." 

"The president has been very clear about that," Wolf said. "We need to make sure that those who are responsible are held accountable, brought to justice and we are doing just that."

In managing widespread protests that have occurred in the two weeks following Floyd's death, Wolf said law enforcement is doing its job "across the board" and that officers are being "targeted" with violence.

Responding to videos that show law enforcement officials hitting seemingly peaceful protesters with batons and shields, Wolf said those types of incidents should be investigated to ensure officers are doing their job correctly. He said there are people in every profession "who probably abuse their authority and their power."