BARR DEFENDS U.S. PROTEST RESPONSE
WASHINGTON — Attorney General William Barr defended the aggressive federal law enforcement response to civil unrest in America as he testified for the first time before the House Judiciary Committee, pushing back against angry, skeptical Democrats who said President Donald Trump’s administration is unconstitutionally suppressing dissent.
The hearing, held Tuesday as the late civil rights icon John Lewis lay in state steps away outside the Capitol, highlighted the wide election-year gulf between the two parties on police brutality and systemic racism in law enforcement. Massive protests have sparked unrest across the nation following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, and calls for police reform are growing louder.
But Barr said “violent rioters and anarchists have hijacked legitimate protests” and argued the violence taking place in Portland, Oregon, and other cities is disconnected from Floyd’s killing, which he called a “horrible” event that prompted a necessary national reckoning on the relationship between the Black community and law enforcement. But he also said there was no systemic racism in law enforcement.
“Largely absent from these scenes of destruction are even superficial attempts by the rioters to connect their actions to George Floyd’s death or any legitimate call for reform,” Barr said of the Portland protests.
The hearing marks Barr’s first appearance before the committee after 18 months in office, bringing him face-to-face with the panel that voted last year to hold him in contempt and is holding hearings on what Democrats say is politicization of the Justice Department under his watch. But little new ground was uncovered; fuming Democrats often used their five minutes to lay out their frustrations and cut Barr off as he attempted to answer questions.
The top Republican on the panel, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, used his opening statement to show an eight-minute video that spliced together images of violence by protesters around the country.
Democrats retorted with a video of their own of more peaceful protesters, shown by Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline.
“We fought for democracy, for the right to speak freely and you are attempting to take that away,” Cicilline told Barr. “What’s worse, you’re doing it for the sole purpose of furthering the president’s political agenda and generating footage for Trump campaign commercials.”
U.S. Attorney General William Barr watches a Republican video showing people rioting during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Tuesday in Washington.