Attorney General William Barr recently leveled criticism at the Black Lives Matter movement, saying that its activists are not actually interested in the lives of African Americans but instead are interested in pushing a broader political agenda.
Barr made the comments during a speech delivered at Hillsdale College on Wednesday, where he said that while the concept that black lives matter is valid, the activists in the movement are merely using the instances of African Americans killed by law enforcement as “props.”
“As a proposition, who can quarrel with the proposition, ‘black lives matter’? But they’re not interested in black lives, they’re interested in props. A small number of blacks that are killed by police during conflict with police, usually less than a dozen a year, who they can use as props to achieve a much broader political agenda,” the attorney general said.
Barr continued saying that for him, the question of black lives is “not only keeping people alive, but also having prosperity and flourishing in their communities.” He said that the leading cause of death for a black person below the age of 44 is crime, where they are shot by another black person.
“You know, the left likes to talk about dealing with the root causes, but all their solutions depend on peaceful streets at the end of the day,” Barr said. “Education, after-school activities, all this stuff depends on peace. If your school is run by a gang it’s not going to get you anywhere. And so, as I say, the foundation of all human progress is the rule of law.”
Protests calling for a change in policing and police accountability erupted across the nation following the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes while he was being arrested.
The incident, Barr said, demonstrated that the country still has work to do with regard to correcting years of distrust between the African American community and law enforcement.
“Before the George Floyd incident, I thought we were in a good place,” Barr said in a July interview. “I thought that economic opportunities were expanding and the African American community was able to participate more than ever before in those opportunities.”
“I think that this episode in Minneapolis showed that we still have some work to do in addressing the distrust that exists in the African American community toward law enforcement.”
Barr had previously said America is still in the process of making reforms to ensure that U.S. institutions, which had been explicitly racist prior to the 1960s, reflect the values and law of modern society.
He noted in that interview with ABC that there’s been some success in reforming police practices in recent years to reduce the number of African American deaths from excessive use of force by law enforcement. He added that while that area is important, the concept of “black lives matter” should also be expanded beyond lives lost to police abuse, something that is frequently spotlighted in national dialogues.
“Obviously, black lives matter. I think all lives, all human life, is sacred. I also think that it’s being used now—is sort of distorting the debate to some extent. Because it’s used really to refer exclusively to black lives that are lost to police misconduct, which have been going down, statistically. Five years ago, there were 40 such incidents. This last year, it was 10. So at least it’s a positive trajectory there. But then you compare it to 8,000 homicides in the African American community … those are black lives that matter too,” he said.
The Black Lives Matter movement was founded after the death of black teen Trayvon Martin. The gunman, George Zimmerman, was charged with the second-degree murder of Martin. A jury later acquitted Zimmerman in 2013.
The acquittal drew outrage and prompted Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi to launch the movement, which gained prominence in 2014 following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. In a recent interview, co-founder Cullors described herself and Garza as “trained Marxists.”