Attorney General William Barr said that if communities do not show more respect to law enforcement officers, they may lose “police protection.”
Barr made the comments, which have drawn criticism from some liberal groups and commentators, at an award ceremony Tuesday honoring officers and deputies for “distinguished service in policing.”
In his speech, Barr compared being in law enforcement to being in the military. Barr said it took decades after the Vietnam War for troops to earn respect. He said he remembers parades as soldiers left for then returned home from the first Gulf War in the 1990s.
“But when police officers roll out of their precinct every morning, there are no crowds along the highway cheering them on. And when you go home at the end of the day, there’s no ticker tape parade.”
Barr said Americans, instead, need to focus on “the sacrifice and the service” of law enforcement.
“They have to start showing more than they do – the respect and support that law enforcement deserves,” Barr said. “And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.”
Barr did not say what “communities” he was referring to, however critics said they felt the comments were direct at communities of color, where long standing issues of trust over police brutality and racial profiling have persisted.
Jeb Fain, a spokesperson for the liberal super PAC American Bridge, told HuffPost the comments were “as revealing as they are disturbing – flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities, and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law.”
Walter Shaub, a former director of the Office of Government Ethics under both Presidents Barrack Obama and Donald Trump, asked on Twitter, “And what ‘communities’ would those be, Bill Barr?”
In August, Barr told the Fraternal Order of Police that there must be “zero tolerance for resisting police,” and in the same speech, criticized “district attorneys that style themselves as ‘social justice’ reformers.”
Nineteen law enforcement officers and deputies were honored at the Tuesday event, highlighting their work in “criminal investigations, field operations or innovations in community policing.” The officers and deputies worked on cases that included gang violence, natural disasters, active shooters and youth outreach.
Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller