Attorney General William Barr, in an exclusive interview on CNN Wednesday, broadly defended the actions of police, saying shootings of Black Americans often weren’t racially motivated and weren’t as common as public demonstrations have made them seem.
“I don’t think there are two justice systems,” Barr said in a sometimes contentious interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.” “I think the narrative that the police are in some epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also the narrative that’s based on race.”
“How do you think African-American parents around the country explain to their kids what exactly happened to Jacob Blake, for example, and why that police officer had his knee on George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes?” asked Blitzer.
“I’m not going to talk about the Blake case … it’s different than the Floyd case,” said Barr. “Floyd was subdued, incapacitated, in handcuffs, and wasn’t armed. In the Jacob case, he was in the process of committing a felony, and he was armed. So that’s the difference.”
“His family says he wasn’t armed,” interjected Blitzer. “There may have been a knife in the car, but he wasn’t armed when he was shot.”
“I stated what I believe is to be the difference,” said Barr. “I don’t want to talk about him as if they’re interchangeable. Now I did say that 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. I don’t think that that necessarily reflects some deep-seated racism in police departments or in most police officers. I think the same kind of behavior is done by African-American police officers.”
Contrary to Barr’s claims, Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul said last week that a knife was recovered from the driver’s side floorboard of Blake’s car, but “a search of the vehicle located no additional weapons,” according to a USA TODAY factcheck.
Barr’s DOJ has not clarified whether the knife was on the floorboard throughout the confrontation, or if Blake may have held it at some point. Spokeswoman Gillian Drummond declined to answer that question when asked by USA TODAY on Aug. 27.
Blake’s representatives have said he was unarmed. His father told the Chicago Sun-Times for an Aug. 25 story, “My son didn’t have a weapon. He didn’t have a gun.”
The witness who recorded Blake’s shooting, 22-year-old Raysean White, has said he did not see a knife in Blake’s hand, but that he heard the officers yell to him, “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” before they shot Blake in front of his young children.