Black Lives Matter: What The Attorney General Should Have Said

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 6, June 2020

By Barbara Childs

Attorney General William Barr and other U.S. officials speak at a press conference on June 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Editor’s note: On June 4, Attorney General William Barr gave a press conference on the Black Lives Matter protests.

Attorney General William Barr was reasonable and respectful of the press at his conference. But I think it is unfortunately another example of what neuro-psychologist Rick Hanson calls “negativity bias”, an evolutionary phenomenon that “overlooks good news, highlights bad news and creates anxiety and pessimism.” In the past negativity bias worked to protect us. Now it can blind us to the present reality. Here is what I wish the Attorney General, President Trump and all our leaders would say instead. 

The extrajudicial murder of George Floyd by a white Minneapolis policeman has triggered a once-in-a-lifetime protest movement throughout every state in our union, a movement that is denouncing police brutality as more than isolated instances. It is a movement that has exposed the systemic racism at the heart of police systems and made these systems a threat to the very democracy they are meant to protect. We can proudly celebrate a living example of real democracy as we watch hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, all colors, all walks of life, marching together peacefully to demand a trained police force that respects the law and the human rights of all persons under the law. These non-violent protestors are not a threat to democracy. They are democracy.

In order to honor and protect the democratic actions of the vast majority of protestors, we will take measured and carefully targeted action to identify and restrain any provocateurs or opportunists who are using the protest for their own purposes, be that personal or political, outside political agents deliberately trying to undermine the American democratic system, or individuals so full of rage that they cannot responsibly and effectively exercise their democratic right to free speech and free assembly. Thankfully, these numbers remain a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands who are remaining non-violent.

As the law enforcement arm of the U.S. government it is our duty to protect the legal and moral right of the protestors to express themselves non-violently in their quest for justice for all. We must hold ourselves to the same high standard that the majority of protestors are exhibiting. We must look within our own ranks and remove all internal violence to which the world is saying “Enough! ” we must honor the majority of protestors who are carrying forward the ideals of the American Revolution and the Civil Rights Movement. We must all stand together in our pursuit of liberty and justice for all. This could be a proud moment in American History. We want to support that as best we can.

Barbara Childs is the pen-name for a retired school teacher in California.