Attorney General William Barr suggested during a law enforcement award ceremony Tuesday that communities that do not show respect for police officers may eventually not have the benefit of police protection, according to USA Today.
Barr was speaking at the third annual Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing when he compared police officers to war veterans and called on citizens to show them comparable respect.
"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's point about the need to respect law enforcement officers and give them due credit for their service is well-made, but there is a lack of clarity about what Barr means by his statement that some communities "might find themselves without" the benefit of police protection.
The potential implications of such a threat are concerning. If a community stages a large protest against police activity, as has happened across the country after police-involved shootings especially in minority communities, will those communities face retaliation in the form of less protection in the future? Even individuals in those communities who might support and respect police?
Additionally, what constitutes "support and respect?" It would be problematic for police protection to be conditioned upon members of a community (whose taxes fund police salaries) not exercising free speech rights in a way that is antagonistic toward police. Members of a community voicing disapproval of the police should not result in police deciding not to serve that community — particularly in cases of police misconduct.
Barr's comment has been met with criticism and even accusations of racism from critics who fear that such a veiled threat from the top law enforcement official in the nation could trickle down and have adverse effects on police behavior.
"Barr's divisive comments are unworthy of an AG," NBC News legal analyst and University of Michigan professor Barbara McQuade wrote on Twitter. "We should all be grateful for the sacrifices and service of police officers, but misconduct should be called out and addressed. Blind devotion is not a requirement for receiving police service."