Attorney General William Barr addressed the officer-involved shooting of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta during a Fox News interview on Sunday, saying that the case was fundamentally different from the case involving the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“There is a lot of activity in Atlanta right now because of the charges against the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks,” Fox News host Maria Bartiromo said. “We saw the video of Brooks grabbing the officer’s Taser, using the Taser against him. The officer’s being charged with felony murder. He could face execution.”
“Did that case merit murder charges, or is that officer being lumped in with the upset over George Floyd?” Bartiromo asked.
“Well, because I might be called upon as attorney general to pass judgment on that case under civil rights laws, I don’t want to get into the specifics of it,” Barr responded. “But I certainly would have liked to have seen the Georgia Bureau of Investigations complete their investigation before charges were brought, and also the use of a grand jury. The grand jury process provides some protection, to have the citizens in a group decide that there’s been a crime committed.”
“And there was no grand jury used in this case. So, I think it’s important to go through the right processes before charging someone,” Barr concluded. “I also think there was a fundamental difference, obviously, between what happened in Atlanta and what happened in Minneapolis, of essentially kneeling on someone’s neck for almost nine minutes who was already incapacitated.”
MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: And fallout today after violence erupted in the Seattle protest zone, largely abandoned by police, where one person was shot and killed on Saturday, another critically injured.
We begin my exclusive interview this morning with Attorney General William Barr with this and the challenges that now face police across America.
BARTIROMO: What a moment we’re living in right now.
We have got a once vibrant town in Seattle, a residential and business town, being taken over, now called the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, or CHAZ, Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone.
In Minneapolis, demonstrators hurling bricks at cops, setting buildings on fire, and then, of course, peaceful protests and not-so-peaceful protests as a result of the death of George Floyd.
As the number one law enforcement individual in the country, what are you going to do to bring law and order back?
WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, all these situations really involve two dimensions of the rule of law.
One is the individual case that’s precipitated the demonstrations and so forth. It’s the job of the Department of Justice to mete out justice fairly and even-handedly in that particular case, and not be influenced by the mob.
The second aspect is these demonstrations, which are fine – protests and demonstrations are fine – but when they become mob violence, we need to restore public order. We can’t be ruled by mobs. We have to be ruled by the legal process.
Now, in this particular situation, there’s obviously legitimate demonstrators out there raising concerns about police abuse. But a lot of these demonstrations have been hijacked by essentially anarchistic groups and professional agitators, who are really in it just for the violence and the confrontation.
And so I do make a distinction between legitimate, peaceful demonstrators and these violent agitators who are involved throughout the country.
BARTIROMO: Well, they took over an area in Seattle. And they’re guarding it with guns. They tried to do it in Portland as well.
Does the federal government have a responsibility to protect citizens of our country if the cities and states won’t do it? Because people’s property have been damaged. There are people who don’t want this autonomous area in Seattle around their homes.
Well, in the first instance, it’s the responsibility, obviously, of the local officials and then the state officials to protect the rights of their citizens. At the end of the day, the federal government does have a responsibility to make sure that citizens are not deprived of their federal rights.
BARTIROMO: So, will you challenge that autonomous city? Will you sue the mayor? What can you do?
BARR: Well, I don’t want to get into specifics, but we’re obviously keeping an eye on it.
And, as the president said, in due course, we may have to do something about it. But we can’t let it go on indefinitely.
BARTIROMO: It’s also sparked calls to defund the police.
Ilhan Omar said that the Minneapolis Police Department is “rotten to the root.”
What is the impact of this pushback on law enforcement? Are you worried about resignations, the cops walking off the job?
I mean, even before this happened, I was speaking out about how the job of being a policeman in the United States these days is the toughest job in the United States. They’re under a lot of pressure. And I was concerned even before these pressures that we were having difficulty maintain the levels of police we need in our cities, retaining them.
And, obviously, this environment, where they’re demonized, will deter a lot of people from continuing to serve as police. And, also, I’m concerned of the effect, that they may pull back some of their enforcement activities and not take those risks.
So, I think it could lead, as it’s led in other situations, to an actual increase in violent crime and more deaths.
The – you know, I understand an event like Minneapolis and why it struck such a chord in the African American community. There has been longstanding distrust of law enforcement, and that partly comes out of the fact that, for much of our history, our laws were explicitly discriminatory.
And for the past few decades, we have been reforming our institutions to make sure they reflect our values. And the police have been engaged in that. And we shouldn’t let this incident and the actions of a bad few obscure the fact that the police have made a lot of progress.
Instances of the shooting of black unarmed males has been dropping. It was 38 five years ago. Last year, it was 10 – 10 in the nation. And six of those were involved in attacking the police officers at the time they were shot.
So, while any death is too many, the fact is that, in proportion, it’s relatively small. I mean, there are 8,000, roughly 8,000 homicides of African Americans in our country every year, 8,000. Ten last year were due to force by shooting an unarmed black male.
So, we have to keep that in perspective. And we also have to keep in perspective that the police forces are much more diverse. The leadership of the police is much more diverse. They are committed to reform. Community policing has been taking hold around the country.
And that reform has to continue. And what we have to do is bring out of these episodes, Minneapolis, something that’s good, and that is, it will galvanize the public will to continue that process of reform. But it has to be fair reform to the police.
BARTIROMO: Should the police have qualified immunity?
BARR: Yes, I think, generally, in our history, immunity used to be absolute. And then they dropped it down to qualified to permit some lawsuits in egregious cases.
But, without qualified immunity, I think most people would not take the job as a police officer. So, we would essentially be doing away from our police departments.
BARTIROMO: What are the implications of collective bargaining?
There was an op-ed ed in The Journal talking about the police unions and how it’s getting in the way of actual reform.
BARR: I think it largely depends on the unions. And it’s hard to generalize.
But I do think that police unions have an important role to play. And I do think that police management has to be able to get rid of bad apples. But, by the same token, I think there has to be due process.
One of the things that’s always bothered – a Democratic senator once used the expression, I thought it was actually a good one – that being the attorney general is like being the sheriff in one of these old Western movies. When the mob shows up at the jailhouse door, you’re standing up in front of the jail.
And, sometimes, that mob wants to hang the person, and, sometimes, they want to spring the person. And it’s the job of the attorney general not to be influenced by the mob, but try to do justice in that particular case.
And I think police are at risk, sometimes, when some event like this happens of – or we have to make special effort to make sure that they get due process. And the unions do play a role in that.
BARTIROMO: There is a lot of activity in Atlanta right now because of the charges against the officer who killed Rayshard Brooks.
We saw the video of Brooks grabbing the officer’s Taser, using the Taser against him. The officer’s being charged with felony murder. He could face execution.
Did that case merit murder charges, or is that officer being lumped in with the upset over George Floyd?
BARR: Well, because I might be called upon as attorney general to pass judgment on that case under civil rights laws, I don’t want to get into the specifics of it.
But I certainly would have liked to have seen the Georgia Bureau of Investigations complete their investigation before charges were brought, and also the use of a grand jury. The grand jury process provides some protection, to have the citizens in a group decide that there’s been a crime committed.
And there was no grand jury used in this case. So, I think it’s important to go through the right processes before charging someone.
I also think there was a fundamental difference, obviously, between what happened in Atlanta and what happened in Minneapolis, of essentially kneeling on someone’s neck for almost nine minutes who was already incapacitated.
BARTIROMO: Very upsetting stories.
Do you think that there is systemic racism in this country?
BARR: No, I don’t think there’s systemic – well, I do think there’s racism in the country.
Now, systemic, in terms of the law enforcement and the police agencies, I don’t think there is systemic law enforcement in those agencies. I think there may be individuals, and there are individuals, who may have bias. And, sometimes, that may emerge and be manifested in some act. But I don’t think it’s systemic.
BARTIROMO: I ask, because there’s something – there are bad cops, and there’s just a system that maybe has things that are built into it that should be looked at.
For example, if a white kid gets caught underage drinking, the parents are going to do anything they can to avoid that conviction on the kid’s record that will follow him and he’ll carry the rest of his life. So, they’ll do diversion program, diversion program.
Are we offering the same diversion programs to blacks and whites?
BARR: In some jurisdictions, yes, in some, probably not as much as we should.
As I said, this is a process of reforming our institutions, looking for inequities, and making sure that we address them.
BARTIROMO: Let me move on to freedom of speech and what just took place, the DOJ planning to roll back the legal protections, the monopoly legal protections, that technology companies enjoy.
What prompted this?
So, the basic idea is that, if you’re acting as essentially a bulletin board, and you’re open to all comers, and third parties can post their content on your website, and you’re not being selective about it, it’s open to all comers, then you shouldn’t be deemed a publisher, because we want to encourage that kind of forum for third-party views.
That ran into problems, because we wanted to encourage, during the early days of the internet, we wanted to encourage platforms to take off obscene material or harassing material or other kinds of offensive material like that.
And so what we said was, in the law, Section 230, if you take that down, that doesn’t make you a publisher, if you take down objectionable material like that. Unfortunately, they started taking down viewpoints and started really being selective and, based on whether they agreed with a viewpoint or not, taking it down.
And that should make them a publisher. But they said, under Section 230, they weren’t. That was one of the problems that was arising under Section 230.
So, we have proposed a change to address that. What we have said is, you can take down stuff that is unlawful, and you can take down stuff that does not accord with your terms of service. But you have to make your terms of service clear. You have to have a reasonably based reason for taking down the particular content and show that it violated your terms of service.
And you need to give someone notice and a process whereby they can dispute that.
BARTIROMO: Google did select Federalist, Zero Hedge, and tried to cut off their advertising revenue.
Senator Tom Cotton also told me that he got a call from someone at Twitter who said, take down your tweet immediately about the police needing the military to back them up. Otherwise, we’re deleting your account entirely.
There’s something very disturbing about what’s going on. To some extent, there was a bait and switch over the past couple of decades. These companies held themselves out as open to all comers. That’s how they built up all their membership and their networks, saying, you know, we have a wide variety of views. People can come in and post their views and their positions and their statements.
And that’s what led to people to join it and then get the strong market position they have. Then they’ve switched. Now they’re being more selective, and they’re starting to censor different viewpoints.
But you have this concentration of these very large companies that had that kind of influence on the sharing of information and viewpoints in our society. And that is a fundamental problem, because our republic was founded on the idea, and the whole rationale was that there would be a lot of diversity of voices, and it would be hard for someone to be able to galvanize a big faction in the United States that could dominate politically and oppress a minority.
And yet now we have, with the internet, and with these big concentrations of power, the ability to do just that, to quickly galvanize people’s views, because they’re only presenting one viewpoint, and they can push the public in a particular direction very quickly.
And our whole Constitution and system was based on not having that, and having a wide diversity of voices.
So, one way that this can be addressed is through the antitrust laws and challenging companies that engage in monopolistic practices.