Black members of Congress did not hold back in criticizing Attorney General William Barr during his testimony last week, and a number of people were particularly incensed when he spoke about recently deceased congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis.
“On behalf of the Department of Justice, I want to pay my respects to your colleague John Lewis, an indomitable champion of civil rights and the rule of law,” Barr told the House Judiciary Committee last Tuesday, according to HuffPost.
Barr repeatedly harped on the fact that Lewis believed in peaceful protest and rule of law, making a tacit reference to more recent protests that he later said are not peaceful and warrant violent responses from the government.
Rep. Cedric Richmond and Rep. Karen Bass took aim at Barr for his comments throughout the hearing and for his references to Lewis. When asked about systemic racism, Barr openly said he does not believe there is “systemic racism in police departments generally in this country.”
“When you all came here and brought your top staff, you brought no Black people. That, sir, is systematic racism. You really should keep the name of the Honorable John Lewis out of the Department of Justice’s mouth,” Richmond said.
Sen. Kamala Harris tweeted out a clip of Barr's statement and said it was insulting that he would mention Lewis while enforcing policies the late congressman spent his life protesting.
Bill Barr hasn’t lifted a finger as Attorney General to protect voting rights in America. He has no business speaking John Lewis’s name. pic.twitter.com/njjrUzKOu1— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) July 28, 2020
Barr's testimony was his first time testifying before the House Judiciary Committee after dodging the group since he was appointed more than a year ago. He did not budge on any issue, defending the heavy-handed government response to recent protests and promoting conspiracy theories that the protests were “hijacked” by “violent rioters and anarchists.”
Like many Republican politicians who spent years dismantling Lewis' work and efforts to make voting as easy as possible, Barr commended the civil rights leader for his “unwavering commitment to nonviolence.”
Lewis passed away on July 17 at 80 years old after decades of fighting for civil and voting rights, as Blavity previously reported.
The hearing included fiery speeches from Democrats but few tangible responses from Barr, who mostly defended the president and denied any wrongdoing, according to The Hill.
When asked whether the recent police violence against protesters was a ruse to cover for the White House's mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, Barr openly admitted that the Cabinet did discuss President Donald Trump's reelection during official government business meetings.
"I’m a member of the Cabinet, and there’s an election going on. Obviously the topic comes up. I’m not going to discuss what I discussed with the president,” Barr said.
Bass, who is in the running to be Democratic candidate Joe Biden's vice president pick, hammered Barr for his responses about police brutality. She cited the opposing cases of Elijah McClain, a Black therapist killed after an altercation with police, and James Holmes, a mass shooter.
“Consider James Holmes, who murdered 12 people and injured 70 others in a movie theater. James wore body armor, had a knife, semi-automatic weapons and an AR-15. Yet he was calmly arrested by the same police department as Elijah McClain without a chokehold or injection of ketamine,” Bass said.