Attorney General’s Views on Racial Disparities in Policing and Incarceration

U.S. Attorney General William Barr

Asked by Senator Cory Booker about statistics showing African Americans are more likely to be arrested for drug crimes even though they use drugs at the same rate as whites, William Barr—now confirmed as Attorney General—responded to the Senate Judiciary Committee that he was unfamiliar with the data, reports

“I have not studied the issue of implicit racial bias in our criminal justice system,” Barr wrote to the committee, adding: “Therefore, I have not become sufficiently familiar with the issue to say whether such bias exists.” “Ignorance aligned with power is one of the most dangerous forces in a free society,” Booker observed. Barr was confirmed in a 55-44 vote running largely along party lines, with support from three Democrats (Kyrsten Sinema, Doug Jones, and Joe Manchin) and opposition from one Republican (Rand Paul).

Brookings reported that blacks are more likely than whites for possessing and selling drugs.  An estimated one third of black men will spend time in a state prison or federal prison at some point  in their lifetime–more than double the rate from the 1970s and over five times higher  than the rate for white males, Brookins reported in the study “How the War on Drugs Damages Black Social Mobility.”

Barr previously served as attorney general during George H.W. Bush’s presidency and gained a reputation as a hardliner. He supported policies that contributed to sizeable increases in the nation’s level of imprisonment. Derrick Johnson, the president and CEO of the NAACP, noted that policies enacted by Barr in the 1990s significantly impacted communities of color and “deprived countless persons of color of their liberty and dramatically limited their future potential,” reports NPR. In his 1993 memo, “The Case for More Incarceration,” Barr wrote that more incarceration would be beneficial to the safety of black communities. Barr has said that his views have evolved and he would bring a modernized approach to his future policies. During the confirmation hearing, he committed to fully implementing the First Step Act.



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