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Barr vows to improve police relations with black community, prosecute 'extremist agitators'

Barr vows to improve police relations with black community, prosecute 'extremist agitators'
© Screenshot/Cspan

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrPolice accountability board concludes that Seattle police officers used excessive force during encounters with protesters Trump hasn't asked Barr to open investigation into Bidens, McEnany says Seattle, Portland, NYC sue Trump administration over threat to pull federal money MORE on Thursday pledged that law enforcement officials will seek to improve relations with the black community, while also vowing to prosecute what he described as “extremist agitators” embedded among peaceful protesters. 

In somber remarks at the Department of Justice (DOJ), Barr said the DOJ and law enforcement agencies will strive to find “constructive solutions” so that the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in the custody of four police officers, is not “in vain.”

“George Floyd's death was not the first of its kind and it exposes concerns that reach far beyond this particular case,” Barr said during a virtual press conference. “It is undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system. This must change.” 

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Barr said that while the “large preponderance” of protesters are peaceful, there are “extremist agitators” engaging in the protests who are seeking to instigate and participate in violent activities against people and buildings.

“There are extremist agitators who are hijacking the protests to pursue their own separate and violent agenda,” he said.

Barr said that the U.S. government will “deal effectively with the criminals who are involved in extremist violence,” pointing to antifa, extremist groups, actors of various political persuasions as well as foreign actors seeking to “exacerbate the violence.”

The attorney general said the spectrum of instigators amounted to a “witch’s brew” of extremists that included both anarchists as well as those advancing their ideology through violence.

“There are some groups that don't have a particular ideology, other than anarchy. There are some groups that want to bring about a civil war — the Boogaloo group has been on the margin of this as well,” he said, referring to a far-right extremist movement, which had three members arrested recently in Las Vegas on state and federal charges.

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During his remarks, Barr also defended the administration's handling of demonstrations near the White House on Monday, when law enforcement officials dispersed a largely peaceful protest around Lafayette Square using chemical agents to clear the crowds.

Moments after authorities cleared the area, President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 MORE walked across the street flanked by Barr, Cabinet members and senior staff to stand in front of St. John’s Episcopal Church, which had been partially burned the day before by vandals. There, the president hoisted a Bible for cameras, with the photo-op sparking bipartisan backlash.

Barr acknowledged Thursday that it was his decision to “move the perimeter northward by a block,” and said it was done to ensure the safety of federal facilities and personnel. He also said it was done after protesters in the crowd were becoming “more unruly,” using projectiles and threatening federal officers and officials.

The attorney general said he was not informed of Trump’s plan to visit the church until after the additional security measures had been planned, but said he didn’t take issue with it.

“I think it was entirely appropriate for him to do,” he said.

Barr was joined at the Thursday press conference by the heads of several federal agencies, including FBI Director Christopher Wray.