It may well be that Attorney General Bill Barr always had impulse control issues, but they failed to make headlines. This time they did.
While speaking to a room full of law enforcement officers Tuesday night during a Justice Department award ceremony to honor distinguished service in policing, Barr made the remarks regarding those who don’t show “respect” to authority, according to The Washington Post.
“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 reportedly said.
Whether law enforcement receives exactly the amount of respect and support they deserve is a debatable question. It’s fair to argue that there are a great many who view all cops as evil, an overly simplistic and unhelpful position, given that there are bad dudes out there and, most of the time, the police perform their function sufficiently.
Bear in mind, there are a million police/citizen interactions a day, and they don’t all end in innocent people being beaten or killed. This detail is too often missed in the fury, which properly follows outrageous or banal misconduct. Too many interactions go bad, but not all and, on occasion, the police do the right thing, behave respectfully and protect and serve. It happens.
But Barr, being Barr, can’t stop himself from taking his own insipid expectation to the next level.
“if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
Is that Barr’s inner mobster coming out? Nice community you got there, it would be a shame if anything happened to it? It certainly smacks of a threat that the cops, who might be on the public dole but owe no general duty to protect or even show up, might decide that they don’t like a community that doesn’t genuflect properly and leave them to their own devices.
Then again, there is a less cynical view of Barr’s message.
A more benign interpretation of Barr’s comments is: If police are vilified, it is harder to get people to do police work, which, in turn, could make it difficult―or even impossible―to perform the vital functions of law enforcement anywhere. Hence, communities could end up with inadequate policing services. Barr’s reference during his speech―and in previous remarks―to how soldiers were treated returning home from the Vietnam War suggests this reading. “In the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson.
Much as it’s true that soldiers returning from Vietnam were called “baby killers” and scorned, it’s a strained analogy at best. But then, Barr didn’t stop at demanding “respect.”
“When police officers roll out of their precincts every morning, there are no crowds along the highway cheering them on and when you go home at the end of the day, there’s no ticker-tape parade,” he said.
That’s pretty much the case for rest of us as well, and there’s a damn fine reason for it that too often eludes police. It’s their job. It’s a job they chose. The police don’t put on a shield because they love us so dearly, but because they have chosen an occupation that lets them carry a gun and order people to comply upon pain of . . ., well, maybe pain says enough.
It’s not entirely unfair to argue that the police have been unfairly demonized, as most never commit the atrocities that show up on viral videos. There are good cops, honest cops and, most importantly, cops who respect their communities and their role in them. Those inclined solely toward hating cops are little different than those inclined solely toward licking their badges.
But Barr doesn’t make that point, that there remain far too many needless beatings, arrests, killings and general abusive conduct, and that it’s his job as attorney general to not only say nice things that cops want to hear, but protect the American public from police misconduct and violation of their constitutional rights. No matter how benign his intention, Barr’s call for “respect” or else was the wrong message.