Brendan Smialowski / AFP via Getty Images
Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET
The Department of Justice held a press conference Thursday amid national protests against racial inequality and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Floyd died after being trapped in the neck by a police officer, causing massive protests across the country. The now fired officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged with second degree murder.
Attorney General William Barr said it is “undeniable that many African Americans lack confidence in our American criminal justice system,” adding, “This has to change.”
He called Thursday a “day of mourning,” referring to the Floyd memorial scheduled for later today.
Commenting on a video showing the conduct of the police during Floyd’s arrest, Barr said: “There is no way that a normal human being could not be struck in the heart with horror. “
Barr said the aftermath of Floyd’s death has challenged the rule of law in the form of “lawlessness, violent riots, arson, looting of businesses and public property , attacks on law enforcement officials and the innocent ”.
“We have evidence that Antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of different political beliefs, have been implicated in the incitement and participation in the violent activity,” said Barr. “And we also see foreign actors playing on all sides to exacerbate the violence. “
Barr says the government is dealing with a “brew of witches from different organizations” fueling violence.
Barr defended the federal response to the Lafayette Park demonstration in Washington, DC on Monday, saying that protesters had launched projectiles and that the group “was becoming increasingly unruly.”
“We asked the protesters three times” to back up one block, he said. When they refused, he said, “We have moved our perimeter. “
Barr also defended the large number of federal law enforcement officials in Washington, claiming that it was “the federal city” and that there was a large-scale disruption that threatened federal property, including federal buildings and monuments.
Barr was joined on Thursday by FBI director Christopher Wray, director of US marshals Donald Washington, director of the Bureau of Prisons Michael Carvajal; Regina Lombardo, Acting Director of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s acting administrator, Timothy Shea.
Wray said he was “dismayed and deeply disturbed by the video footage” of the events that led to the death of George Floyd.
He said that Floyd’s family and the whole country “are trying to find a way forward.”
“It’s because it’s not just George Floyd,” said Wray. “These are all those who over the years have rightfully been killed or have had their rights violated. “
He added: “When law enforcement does not fulfill its most basic duty to protect and serve its citizens, especially members of a minority community, it not only tarnishes the badge that we all wear, but erodes the trust that so many of us in law enforcement have worked so hard to build. ”
Justice Department officials reiterated the right of the Americans to exercise their first amendment rights to peaceful protest, but called the small group of people who “hijacked” these efforts.
Barr led the federal response to the protests, some of which had been violent. Barr has sent specialized teams of federal agents to help control protests in Washington, D.C. and Miami, and the FBI is setting up command posts in cities across the country.
In Washington, Barr was on the scene Monday evening before the largely peaceful demonstration at Lafayette Square which was interrupted by law enforcement. His presence came before President Trump went to St. John’s Episcopal Church, where Trump posed with a Bible. The church had been damaged in a fire the previous night.
The actions of the police, who assaulted the protesters, have been criticized. United States park police have announced that they have assigned two officers to an administrative function and were seen assaulting an Australian television crew.
Park police say they “will always support peaceful rallies but cannot tolerate violence against citizens or officers or damage to the resources of our nation that we are responsible for protecting.” He said officers were attacked with frozen water bottles and other projectiles.