How Barr’s experience as AG during the LA riots previewed Trump’s actions against protesters
In the wake of George Floyd’s death, Attorney General Bill Barr has found himself in a similar place he was in 28 years ago — serving as the country’s chief law enforcement officer and trying to quell a demonstration rooted in racial strife, using a similar type of force against Americans who had watched video of a black man brutalized by police.
After nearly three decades of societal change, Barr’s approach to protests sparked by concerns of racism hasn’t budged, focusing largely on putting an end to the violence — and not the peaceful message advocating for wide-reaching law enforcement reform.
It was Barr who on Monday evening ordered authorities — clad in military-grade guard and head shields, using some of the SWAT-like policing tactics generally considered to have been developed within the Los Angeles Police Department — to clear a crowd of protesters that had gathered near the White House, according to a Justice Department official.
Soon after, Trump addressed the press from the White House Rose Garden, threatening governors and local officials to quell the protests in their states or he would move to involve US military — something he doesn’t have the absolute legal authority to do. He subsequently walked past the area where protesters had just been cleared to take a photo with a Bible at a church damaged by demonstrators.
It was also Barr, serving as then-President George H.W. Bush’s attorney general, who helmed the federal response during 1992’s Los Angeles riots which came after four officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King. That was, in fact, the last time the Insurrection Act was invoked — the 1807 law allowing for the use of US military on US soil.
The similar incidents — and country’s top law enforcement officer at the heart of both — illustrate, in some ways, how little has changed in the intervening decades. The videotape of King’s treatment highlighted the racial divide both in LA and the country — and it spoke to the systemic racism between people of color — specifically black men — and law enforcement. And those same wounds are clearly driving continued — mostly peaceful — protests across the United States following Floyd’s death.
“An apolitical army is central to American democracy. But the president is using the armed forces to subvert it.
Legal and military experts have debated whether Mr. Trump can or should deploy troops in response to the protests. On Wednesday the secretary of defense, Mark Esper, broke with the president, saying he did not think the military was needed.”