Attorney General William Barr made misleading comments on several matters when he testified on Tuesday to the House Judiciary Committee, the New York Times reports. Among them: Barr said President Donald Trump has allowed him “to exercise my independent judgment to make whatever call I think is right.” Actually, Trump has repeatedly disparaged DOJ investigations and made his feelings clear in high-profile cases, and Barr earlier said Trump’s attacks “make it impossible for me to do my job.” On another subject, Barr cited Washington Post data showing that the number of unarmed Black men killed by police so far this year is eight, while the number of unarmed white men killed by police over the same period is 11.
The Times notes that raw numbers obscure the pronounced racial disparity in such shootings. When factoring in population size, Black Americans are killed by the police at more than twice the rate as white Americans. In the U.S., on average, the probability of being shot by a police officer for someone who is Black and unarmed is higher than for someone who is white and armed. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) took issue with Barr’s presentation of the data. Some research has shown that even when controlling for the demographics of those arrested, there are still racial disparities in the use of police force. Barr noted that the vast majority of Black homicide victims are killed by other Blacks. He used the statistic to argue that “the threat to Black lives posed by crime on the streets is massively greater than any threat posed by police misconduct.” He is correct that 88.9 percent of Black murder victims were killed by Black perpetrators in 2018. Left unsaid was that murder victims and their perpetrators are overwhelmingly of the same race or ethnicity.