William Barr
Credit: FOX 10 Phoenix/YouTube Screen Capture

William Barr has already demonstrated that he is an attorney general who:

  1. Is more interested in protecting the president than acting as the chief law enforcement officer of the country,
  2. Believes that only religious people (i.e., Christians) are capable of self-government, and
  3. Doesn’t know the difference between justice and revenge.

But in a speech to police officers and prosecutors on Tuesday, he demonstrated that he also doesn’t respect our constitutional rights.

“Today, the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers. And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” Barr said in pointed remarks delivered at a Justice Department ceremony to honor police officers.

Barr added that “if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”…

[H]e suggested, Americans should stop protesting police officers “fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.”

While Barr didn’t specify how communities will “find themselves without the police protection they need” if they don’t show an adequate amount of support and respect for law enforcement, his words were designed to be an obvious threat to those who protest against police misconduct, particularly in communities of color.

To get an idea of just how aberrant Barr’s comments are, it is helpful to take a look at how a previous attorney general talked about protests against law enforcement. When Eric Holder visited Ferguson in the midst of protests against the killing of Michael Brown, he said this.

This is something that has a history to it and the history simmers beneath the surface in more communities than just Ferguson…

I just had the opportunity to sit down with some wonderful young people and to hear them talk about the mistrust they have at a young age. These are young people and already they are concerned about potential interactions they might have with the police.

I understand that mistrust. I am the attorney general of the United States. But I am also a black man. I can remember being stopped on the New Jersey turnpike on two occasions and accused of speeding. Pulled over …. ‘Let me search your car’ … Go through the trunk of my car, look under the seats and all this kind of stuff. I remember how humiliating that was and how angry I was and the impact it had on me.

In other words, at that point we had an attorney general who listened to and identified with the community that was protesting. But he didn’t stop there, Holder worked with law enforcement to provide guidance on how to do their job of protecting the community while respecting our constitutional right to protest.

Holder upheld not just the constitutional right to protest, but lauded its value.

Peaceful protest has been a hallmark, and a legacy, of past movements for change, from patriotic women who demanded access to the franchise, to the civil rights pioneers who marched for equal rights and equal justice.

That, my friends, is how things are supposed to work in a pluralistic democracy, while Barr’s threats are the pathway to authoritarianism.

We don’t vote directly on who gets the job of attorney general. But I can think of no better example of the phrase “elections matter” than to contrast the ones chosen by Obama and Trump. Our democracy requires both a president and an attorney general who respect and defend our constitutional rights.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.