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Trump officials say there is no systemic racism problem in law enforcement

“That kind of thing is very uncommon now,” HUD Secretary Ben Carson said of systemic racism Sunday.

As a black man on the ground cries out, an officer in riot gear handcuffs him.
A protester in Atlanta is detained by police.
Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images

Top Trump administration officials rejected the idea of systemic racism influencing law enforcement Sunday amid nationwide protests against police brutality, disproportionate police violence against people of color, and racial inequities.

The comments come as President Donald Trump has repeatedly broadcast his support for law enforcement, even as police have been documented attacking journalists, protesters who have mostly remained peaceful, and bystanders at demonstrations.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf told ABC’s Martha Raddatz Sunday morning that protesters’ anger over George Floyd — an unarmed black man who was killed by a former Minneapolis police officer on May 25 — is “very real, very legitimate.” But, he claimed, “What we see across the board, by and large, is law enforcement doing their job.”

Wolf added the US does not “have a systemic racism problem with law enforcement officers,” and said, “Painting law enforcement with a broad brush of systemic racism is really a disservice to the men and women who put on the badge, the uniform every day.”

Attorney General William Barr echoed Wolf’s sentiments in an interview with CBS News’s Margaret Brennan, saying, “there’s racism in the United States still, but I don’t think that the law enforcement system is systemically racist.” Barr went on to say he thinks law enforcement reforms put in place following the civil rights era are working, and that the majority of police officers are “civic minded people who believe in serving the public.”

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson went a step further, suggesting that not only does systemic racism not exist in the law enforcement field, but that it no longer exists in any meaningful way in American life in general.

Carson told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he “grew up in a time when there was real systemic racism,” telling a story about a time when he was the only black student in his class, got the best grades, and had to listen to his teacher berate the white students for not trying hard enough.

“That kind of thing is very uncommon now,” Carson said. “Are there still racists around? Absolutely. There were yesterday, there are today and there will be tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight it.”

Despite the assertions of the Trump administration, systemic racism does affect policing

As Vox’s Sean Collins has reported, massive inequities do remain in the way law enforcement treats Americans of different races. For instance, a recent analysis by advocacy group Mapping Police Violence found black Americans are twice as likely to be killed by police as Latinx people, and three times more likely than white people. The same study also found that black people are 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed when they’re killed by police than white people are.

Data also shows little accountability for this disparity. An analysis of law enforcement records and public databases by Mapping Police Violence found that 99 percent of police killings from 2013 to 2019 didn’t result in charges for the officers involved.

Those trends are borne out in the way Americans of different races feel about the police. According to an Axios-Ipsos poll of 1,033 US adults taken from May 29 to June 1 (with a 3.1 percentage point margin of error), 77 percent of white Americans polled said they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in local police, while only 36 percent of African American respondents did.

Still, Trump and top officials are making clear they support state and local police, even as disturbing images and videos of law enforcement officers retaliating against mostly peaceful protesters circulate.

The president himself has tweeted “LAW & ORDER” four times in the last week alone, called upon the police to “get tough,” and retweeted multiple tweets from Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton, whose advocacy for sending US troops into American cities to quash protests caused a staff revolt inside the New York Times.

Trump also reportedly demanded that the US military send 10,000 active duty troops into cities on Monday, despite opposition from Barr, Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley. Barr called that report “completely false” on Sunday morning, saying instead they were put “on standby in case they were needed.”

Trump’s hardline approach has not, however, engendered goodwill among some of those who traditionally support him. Several top military leaders have spoken out in recent days against the president’s support for police retaliation, and conservative televangelist Pat Robertson said his plan to send in troops “isn’t cool.”

He added: “You just don’t do that, Mr. President.”

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