UPDATED: 2:29 p.m. EDT —
The president’s announcement that he would nominate William Barr to be the next attorney general was a nod to both the past and future. If confirmed, the nation’s former top cop was expected to readily ascribe to the racist ideals he previously upheld while leading a criminal justice system systemically rigged against Black people.
Barr, who served in the same position under the late former President George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, has an unabashed history of openly embracing policies that overtly discriminate against people of color, including and especially Black people. The 68-year-old’s deeply troubling personal and legal opinions about the benefits of locking up more and more Black people have been well-documented.
Until the New York City native’s name started bubbling up on the rumor mill as a potential successor to Jeff Sessions, who was forced to resign last month, he was merely a small blip on the racist radar in the era of Donald Trump. But now, the [further] damage that he could do to America, and the Black community in particular, as the next attorney general should be sounding alarms for everybody who opposes mass incarceration over more discretionary and humanitarian approaches to penalizing violators of the law.
Barr’s nomination also seemed to undermine the president’s already failing criminal justice reform platform, a topic that’s brought both Kim Kardashian and her husband Kanye West to the White House to varying levels of success. If Barr gets confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee, all of those efforts likely get thrown out of the window.
While serving under Bush, who has his own criminal justice policy demons to deal with, Barr was all about imprisoning people as the only answer no matter the crime. He once said that there were neither “sympathetic people” nor “hapless victims of the criminal justice system” in prison, which clearly means he doesn’t believe in the concept of people being mistakenly jailed, something which continues to happen, especially to Black people. It also means Barr doesn’t believe in the concept of rehabilitation, the premise upon which prison is purportedly primarily built.
That’s bad news for Black folks, who made up nearly 30 percent of the people who were arrested last year, according to the most recent statistics. And while the number of Black people in prison has declined in recent years, it still remained alarmingly high, especially considering that African-Americans only account for 13 percent of the U.S. population.
In case it wasn’t abundantly clear by now what type of agenda Barr would probably [re]embrace as attorney general, here’s how he told it in 1992: “the benefits of increased incarceration would be enjoyed disproportionately by Black Americans.”
That logic just doesn’t compute — unless, of course, you want to see Black people locked up with no questions asked. According to research by University of Minnesota professor Michael Tonry and published in 1994, Barr “made the most aggressive efforts to compel state adoption of tougher criminal justice policies, and the Bush administration’s final proposed crime bills restricted eligibility for federal funds to states that, like the federal government, abolished parole release and adopted sentencing standards no less severe than those in the federal sentencing guidelines.”
Yep, you read right — Barr is even anti-parole and anti-early release, which doubles down on his past comments about how prison lacks “sympathetic people.”
His unforgiving, pro-prison stance was a constant from when he first began presiding over the Department of Justice (DOJ), according to the New York Times’ coverage in 1992.
“I believe deeply that the first duty of government is providing for the personal security of its citizens,” Barr, who was primarily focused on drugs, gangs and guns, said that year. “Therefore I would naturally place the highest priority on strengthening law enforcement.”
The Times underscored that sentiment with reporting on Barr’s ‘the more, the better’ approach to prison populations.
“He has also reversed a longstanding Justice Department policy and promised to help states fight court-ordered limits on prison overcrowding,” the Times wrote. “The shift highlighted a central theme of Mr. Barr’s tenure so far: his contention that violent crime can be reduced only by expanding Federal and state prisons to jail habitual, violent offenders.”
His nomination especially worried the NAACP.
“William Barr’s own record on civil rights is deeply troubling, particularly in the area of criminal justice. We urge the Senate to exercise its advise and consent responsibility carefully and thoroughly and to vet this nominee entrusted with enforcing our rights with the utmost care,” the nation’s oldest civil rights organization said in a brief statement Friday afternoon. “Given his own policies, actions and statements on civil rights, Trump is not entitled to any deference on an appointment this critical to enforcing our nation’s civil right laws. In fact, Trump’s deplorable record makes an appointment immediately suspect.”
If you’re still not convinced Barr how disastrous Barr could be, he made sure to write about it in great detail as to leave no confusion about his jail-first stance.
First came a report Barr wrote from the Office of the Attorney General in 1992 titled “Combating Violent Crime: 24 Recommendations to strengthen Criminal Justice.” In it, Barr blamed the “repeat, violent offender,” who he described in part as a “hard core group” who should be given “mandatory minimum sentences” and was not worthy of parole or early release.
Barr also went to painstaking measures to explain why he thought more prisons was the answer.
“Of course, we cannot incapacitate these criminals unless we build sufficient prison and jail space to house them,” he wrote. “Revolving door justice resulting from inadequate prison and jail space breeds disrespect for the law and places our citizens at risk, unnecessarily, of becoming victims of violent crime.”
Three months later, he published another DOJ report, named no less, “The Case For More Incarceration.”
It’s important to note that it wasn’t just Black people who Attorney General Barr 2.0 would threaten — he has past ties to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting a probe into Trump’s association with Russia during the 2016 election, a topic that Barr said last year was less important than investigating Hillary Clinton’s alleged approval of a uranium sale to Russia. If confirmed, Barr would be leading the DOJ, which appointed Mueller to investigate. That could make for a deadly combination for the entire probe, which has been making steady progress.
Sessions’ agenda was also rooted in racism, but even he was forced to disagree with Trump’s approach to being the so-called “law and order president,” including on prison reform. Enter Barr, whose approach to criminal justice reform is more in line with Trump’s and the polar opposite of former Attorney General Eric Holder, the first Black man in that position, who held local police departments accountable for the persistent trend of cops killing innocent Black people with impunity.
But with all of this overwhelmingly damning proof of Barr’s predisposed and implicit bias against a portion of society lopsidedly comprised of people with a darker hue of skin, the proverbial writing was already on the wall. That leaves African-Americans with little hope for an answer to other to problems confronted by past attorneys general, like Eric Holder’s efforts to address police officers killing innocent Black people under the most suspicious of circumstances, a trend that has seemingly picked up under Trump.
It was not immediately clear when Barr’s confirmation hearing would be scheduled for.