AG Bill Barr says 'epidemic' of cops shooting unarmed black men is a 'false narrative'

Attorney General William Barr testifies about the Justice Department's FY2020 budget request before the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 09, 2019 in Washington, D.C.
Attorney General William Barr testifies about the Justice Department's FY2020 budget request before the House Appropriations Committee's Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Subcommittee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill April 09, 2019 in Washington, D.C. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Attorney General William Barr declared that the belief that there's an “epidemic of cops shooting unarmed black men” in the United States is a “false narrative.” 

“I think the narrative that the police are on some epidemic of shooting unarmed black men is simply a false narrative and also a narrative that is based on race,” the 70-year-old Barr said during an interview on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

“The fact is that it’s very rare for an unarmed African American to be shot by a white police officer.”

The attorney general’s comments come as there have been months of protests, demonstrations, and riots in cities across the U.S. following the officer-involved death of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shootings of African Americans Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake, among other incidents.

Thousands flocked to the nation’s capital last Friday to call for racial justice, police reform and accountability. Demonstrators have argued that African Americans are being disproportionately killed by police officers and that such killings are some sort of sign of “systemic racism” in the U.S. 

While Barr stressed that there's not an epidemic of white police officers shooting black Americans, he admitted that there are situations within the justice system where “statistics would suggest that they are treated differently.”

“But I don't think that that's necessarily racism," Barr said. 

"Didn't Jesse Jackson say that when he looks behind him and he sees a group of young black males walking behind him, he's more scared than when he sees a group of white youths walking behind him," Barr added. "Does that make him a racist?"

Data compiled between 2009 and 2012 by the National Institutes of Health through the National Violent Death Reporting System indicate that 52% of people who are shot by police officers are white. About 32% of people shot by police in the U.S. are black.  

The data also shows that 83% of people who were shot by police officers were armed. The data also indicated that a higher percentage of black people who were shot by police were unarmed (14.8%), while 9.4% of white police shooting victims and 5.8% of Hispanic victims were unarmed. 

The online data portal Statista reported Monday that between 2017 and 2020 at least 1,468 white people, 790 black people, and 565 Hispanic people have been shot and killed by police. 

“Sadly, the trend of fatal police shootings in the United States seems to only be increasing, with a total 661 civilians having been shot, 123 of whom were black, as of August 30, 2020,” the Statista report explains. “In 2018, there were 996 fatal police shootings, and in 2019 this figure increased to 1,004. Additionally, the rate of fatal police shootings among black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 31 fatal shootings per million of the population as of August 2020.”

Statista also released a report on the rate of fatal police shootings in the U.S. from 2015 to August 2020. 

Among African Americans, the rate of fatal police shootings between 2015 and August 2020 stood at 32 per million of the population. By comparison for white Americans, the rate is about 13 fatal police shootings per million.

Criminal justice advocates have long complained that there is a disproportionately high percentage of African Americans in prison in the U.S. as a result of over-policing in urban, minority communities.

However, a Pew Research report citing data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics released last year suggests that the gap between white and black people in prisons has “steadily narrowed” over the last decade.

The killing of African Americans by police officers in altercations continues to make headlines and inspire protests nationwide. 

Wednesday night, police in Washington, D.C., shot an 18-year-old black man named Deon Kay as they were investigating reports of a man with a gun at an apartment complex. 

According to police, Kay ran from police officers in Southeast Washington and pulled out a gun. During the chase, an officer shot him. 

On Thursday, police released nearly 11 minutes of bodycam footage from the incident. 

An officer can be seen yelling at Kay to stop moving several times. In the next few moments, as officers chase the assailant, who appeared to have something in his right hand, he's shot. 

The footage shows an officer looking around for a gun that Kay allegedly threw into a nearby playground before the weapon was found about 98 feet from the scene. 

In a “community briefing” video, police said that in a slow-motion play of the bodycam footage, Kay can be seen “brandishing a firearm.”

Kay's death comes about a week-and-a-half after police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake on Aug. 23 while he resisted arrest. Blake had a warrant out for his arrest for one felony count of third-degree sexual assault, trespassing and disorderly conduct related to domestic abuse, court records show. A woman called police to report that Blake was unlawfully at her residence and had stolen her keys. 

On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies fatally shot 29-year-old African American Dijon Kizzee during a confrontation after stopping him for a vehicle code violation. Sheriff's Lt. Brandon Dean told media that the suspect punched a deputy in the face and dropped clothes he was carrying.

After a handgun fell along with the clothes Kizzee was carrying, Dean said officers fired upon him. However, attorney Ben Crump claims Kizzee was not a threat to the officers at the time of the shooting and claims he was "executed" "in cold blood."

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