Several top Trump administration officials claimed Sunday that systemic racism is not an issue in US law enforcement agencies – even as thousands of Americans continue to take to the streets to protest against racism and police violence following the police killing of a black man in Minneapolis.
“I think there’s racism in the United States still but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist. I understand the distrust, however, of the African American community given the history in this country,” Attorney General William Barr said in an interview with CBS.
Barr added that he thinks since the 1960s, “we’ve been in a phase of reforming our institutions and making sure that they are in sync with our laws and aren’t fighting a rearguard action to impose inequities.”
Barr’s colleague, acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, similarly dismissed the idea that racism is a problem in law enforcement, arguing instead that “some” officers “abuse their jobs.”
“Painting law enforcement with a broad brush of systemic racism is really a disservice to the men and women who put on the badge, the uniform every day, risk their lives every day to protect the American people,” Wolf told ABC.
And when Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson was asked if he thinks systemic racism is an issue in US law enforcement, Carson, who is African American, demurred, saying he grew up in a time when there was “real systemic racism.”
“We have policemen who are rogue – the vast majority of policemen are wonderful,” he said.
The death of George Floyd, a black man who was killed late last month by a white officer who knelt on his neck for more than 8 minutes, has spurred massive, ongoing demonstrations in cities across the country. The comments Sunday from the three Cabinet-level officials provide a starkly different view of America than that of the thousands of protesters, who are demanding justice for Floyd and seeking to call attention to decades of police abuse toward black Americans as a result of what they say is institutionalized racism in law enforcement agencies.
Last week, following days of intense protests – some of which turned violent at times – national security adviser Robert O’Brien also said systemic racism wasn’t a problem in police agencies, arguing instead that “a few bad apples” give the impression of racism among law enforcement officers.
Apart from the throngs of protesters taking to the streets, many local, state and federal officials have also acknowledged that systemic racism is a problem in police forces, including the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, Jacob Frey, whose office said this weekend that he is “unwavering in his commitment to” working with the city’s police chief to remedy the issue.
Speaking about the issue last week, Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who is black, also struck a decidedly different tone, telling CNN that “black people in communities all across this country live in fear of the police.”
And presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has delivered speeches and met with community members in his home state of Delaware and neighboring Pennsylvania calling for the dire need to end systemic racism in the US.
CNN’s Nicky Robertson, Austen Bundy, Sarah Mucha and MJ Lee contributed to this report.