The United States Attorney General, William Barr, made a comment while speaking at a Conservative event about a nationwide lockdown, on Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. He stated “Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this was the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history.” Rep. Jim Clyburn, a top-ranking Democrat, told CNN the following day the comment was “God Awful!”
A Little About Clyburn
Clyburn is a Democratic congressman representing South Carolina since 1993 in the U.S. House of Representatives. He currently heads up a select committee for the Coronavirus pandemic. On May 19, 2019, Democrats reported that they were starting a Rural Broadband Taskforce which is working on a way to provide high-speed internet for all Americans by 2025. Clyborn is Chairman of that Committee.
On Thursday, John Berman of CNN’s “New Day” asked Clyburn about Barr’s comment. The South Carolina Congressman replied that the statement was not only “God awful” but tone-deaf. He also said it was the most ridiculous thing he has ever heard. It was unbelievable that the top law enforcement official in the country would compare slavery to expert medical advice. Scientists promote life, and slavery devalued life.
A Definition of Slavery
According to Isabel Wilkinson’s latest book “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents,” slavery lasted for about a quarter of a millennium. Slavery is the transformation of people into machines with the sole purpose of working to produce money for their owners.
For centuries Africans were subject to abuse — they were raped, tortured, and beaten. Slaves were considered their owners’ personal property. It was never about the sanctity of life, it placed a value on the color of one’s skin. This is but one reason Clyburn said Barr’s words are “God Awful.”
Barr’s Insensitive Arrogance
When Barr simulated the two very different situations, he showed he is arrogant and opinionated. If Barr does have a full understanding of the impact of slavery and what it was all really about, then he clearly lacks empathy for those affected.
He made another surprising comment this month to a CNN journalist, Barr told Wolff Blitzer that he does not believe there is a separate justice system for Black men. Moreover, the police are not out to get them.
Barr was questioned by the House Judiciary Committee last month by Representative Shiela Jackson, a Texas Democrat. Jackson told him he did not seem to understand the institutional and systematic racism that has affected so many.
The Attorney General brought evidence that he felt showed that more white men were killed this year by police. However, he did not mention the economic and population differences between the unarmed shootings of both white and Black men.
President George H.W. Bush chose Barr as Attorney General. During the 1992 Los Angeles riots his cruel and insensitive disregard for others was just as apparent as is his handling of the Black Lives Matter protests.
In each rioting situation, Barr invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807, which allows the U.S. President to deploy the U.S. military to suppress civil disorder on U.S. soil. In the recent protests, several states said they did not want the military’s help and preferred to handle it themselves.
When Clyburn said Barr’s words are “God Awful” he was reacting to the message that the U.S. Attorney General sent during a pandemic in an already divided nation. Barr created more conflict and cast even more doubt over his own abilities to deal with a divided nation.
Written by Katherine Miller
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Congressman James E. Clyburn: Biography
CNN: The painful absurdity of AG William Barr’s slavery comment; Brandon Tensley
CNN: Head of Black policing group Barr over denial of systematic racism in law enforcement; David Shortell
The Hill: Top Dem launches rural broadband task force amid infrastructure talks; Emily Birnbaum
Top and Featured Image Courtesy of Thomas Hawk’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License