Civil rights advocates condemned Attorney General William Barr for comments Tuesday suggesting that communities that don't show sufficient "respect" for law enforcement could lose police protection.
Critics perceived Barr's remarks as a thinly veiled threat against people of color who have protested police brutality and demanded stronger accountability for law enforcement.
"I think today, American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers," Barr said in a speech at the Justice Department Tuesday. "And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves."
"If communities don't give that support and respect," added Barr, "they might find themselves without the police protection they need."
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Barr's comments "profoundly disturbing and irresponsible."
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In a statement Wednesday, Jeffery Robinson, director of the ACLU's Trone Center for Justice and Equality, said Barr is effectively "telling communities across the country to bow their heads in respect to police even if those same police are violating their rights and killing people without justification."
"This administration has repeatedly made it clear that it is not interested in holding law enforcement accountable," said Robinson. "Communities of color around the country are consistently being abused by their police departments without receiving the type of public safety benefits that Attorney General Barr described."
The Atlantic's Adam Serwer said Barr's comments show that the attorney general views police not as "sworn officers of the law" or "civil servants bound by an oath" but as "a gang running a protection racket."
"Bill Barr, almost verbatim: 'Nice community you got there. Shame if something happened to it because you said the police shouldn't murder innocent people,'" Serwer tweeted. "Barr doesn't mean white people, whose rights are, after all, inviolable. It's the rest of us whose protection under the law is dependent on forfeiting the right to criticize the state."