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Barr denies systemic racism in police shootings of Black men

Many studies and real-life accounts from Black Americans dispute Barr's claim.
Image: Attorney General Barr Testifies Before House Judiciary Committee, in Washington
Attorney General William Barr testifies before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington on July 28.Chip Somodevilla / Pool via Reuters file

Attorney General William Barr denied Wednesday that systemic racism is a factor in the police shootings of unarmed Black men amid months of nationwide protests against racial injustice and police brutality.

"I do think that there appears to be a phenomenon in the country where African Americans feel that they're treated, when they're stopped by police, frequently as suspects before they are treated as citizens," Barr said in an interview with CNN. "I don't think that that necessarily reflects some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers. ...

"I think people operate very frequently according to stereotypes, and I think it takes extra precaution on the part of law enforcement to make sure we don't reduce people to stereotypes, we treat them as individuals," he said.

Barr also said he doesn't believe there are "two justice systems" when he was asked why a 17-year-old white teenager accused of killing two protesters and injuring a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was arrested without incident but Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot several times in the back by Kenosha police.

"I think the narrative that the police are on some, you know, epidemic of shooting unarmed Black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that that's based on race," Barr said. "The fact of the matter is very rare for an unarmed African American to be shot by a white police officer."

Barr has repeatedly denied the existence of systemic racism in law enforcement, drawing the ire of civil rights leaders and experts as the country grapples with demands from protesters for racial justice. Lynda Williams, president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, was reported to have confronted Barr in a closed-door meeting over his remarks last month.

Many studies and real-life accounts from Black Americans dispute Barr's claims.

The Washington Post created a massive, real-time police shooting database following the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, in 2014. An analysis of the data published five years later, in August 2019, found that Black Americans account for 36 percent of unarmed police shooting victims even though they are just 13 percent of the U.S. population.

A Stanford University study released last year revealed that there is a clear pattern of racial disparities in traffic stops. The study analyzed 100 million police traffic stops, the largest such dataset ever collected.

The results show that police stopped and searched Black and Latino drivers on the basis of less evidence than they used in stopping white drivers, who are searched less often but are more likely to be found with illegal items. It also found that the difference in traffic stops drops by up to 10 percent at night, when it's harder for police to see the race of a driver.

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A recent study by the American Civil Liberties Union of marijuana possession arrests from 2010 to 2018 concluded that even though the drug has been legalized or decriminalized in many states, "stark racial disparities" remain. The study said a Black person is, on average, nearly four times more likely to be arrested for possession than a white person, even though both groups use the drug at similar rates.