Attorney General William Barr warned communities who protest law enforcement that they could lose access to protection from police.
Speaking to a room full of police officers and prosecutors Tuesday night, Barr suggested that those who do not show "respect" to law enforcement could "find themselves without the police protection they need."
"Today, the American people have to focus on something else, which is the sacrifice and the service that is given by our law enforcement officers," Barr said during a Department of Justice award ceremony to honor distinguished service in policing. "And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves."
Barr did not indicate what "communicates" he was referencing, but activists swiftly decried his remarks as a clear attack on minorities who have protested police brutality and other misconduct by law enforcement. Salon has reached out to the Justice Department for comment on Barr's remarks.
"Barr's words are as revealing as they are disturbing ― flagrantly dismissive of the rights of Americans of color, disrespectful to countless law enforcement officers who work hard to serve their communities and full of a continuing disregard for the rule of law,” Jeb Fain, spokesperson for liberal super PAC American Bridge, told HuffPost, which first reported Barr's remarks.
Before handing out honors to police officers at Tuesday's ceremony for the Attorney General's Award for Distinguished Service in Policing, Barr lamented the fact deployed troops are celebrated at airports when they return home while police officers are not more openly applauded.
"When police officers roll out of their precincts every morning, there are no crowds along the highway cheering them on and when you go home at the end of the day, there's no ticker-tape parade," he said.
He then went on to compare police officers to Vietnam-era soldiers returning home to face those opposed to the war.
"In the Vietnam era, our country learned a lesson. I remember that our brave troops who served in that conflict weren't treated very well in many cases when they came home, and sometimes they bore the brunt of people who were opposed to the war," Barr said. "The respect and gratitude owed to them was not given, and it took decades for the American people finally to realize that."
He argued that Americans should stop protesting police officers "fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society."
Critics condemned Barr's suggestion in the speech that police could stop protecting those who protest them.
"Barr's divisive comments are unworthy of an AG," tweeted Barb McQuade, law professor at the University of Michigan and NBC News legal analyst. "We should 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."
MSNBC legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Mimi Rocah called the attorney general's remarks "despicable" and "dangerous."
Daniel Nichanian, senior fellow at The Justice Collaborative and editor of The Appeal, described Barr's comments as "terrifying," and said the attorney general is "effectively demanding that citizens shut up & stop any questioning, activism, demands toward how their local government uses force & guns."