Crime Story launched in August of last year with my interview with Attorney General William Barr. June 5, 2020 marked the one year anniversary of our recording that interview. The themes that came up in the conversation with the AG (implicit bias in law enforcement, Black Lives Matter protests, anger at injustices, criminal justice reform) remain stunningly resonant.
Attorney General William Barr and I met when he was on the Board of Directors of Time Warner. I was working for HBO and its sister channel Cinemax at that time and we connected over his appreciation of a Cinemax show that I worked on called Banshee. Banshee is a violent, pulpy series, that tells the story of an ex-con who comes into a small town, and through a series of events, assumes the identity of the town’s sheriff.
As I was planning Crime Story, I knew that we would be focusing on the human impact of criminal justice and the narratives presented around it. Many of these stories will shed light on inherent inequities in the system that leave individuals of color and of limited means at a distinct disadvantage.
And so, I sought an interview with the Attorney General to discuss how his thinking about these themes and issues has changed since he first served as Attorney General in the early 90s.
I also wanted to ask him what it was about the themes of Justice in the Banshee series that appealed to him.
On June 5, 2019 the Attorney General graciously agreed to sit down with me in his office in Washington, DC. You can hear and read a transcript of that interview here.*
As the events unfolded in the aftermath of the death of George Floyd, I thought of the themes that AG Barr and I discussed. I also observed his involvement in some of President Trump’s decision-making in response to the social unrest in Washington, DC and beyond. These events only intensified my curiosity about how Mr. Barr thinks about so many of the issues. And so, two weeks ago, on the anniversary of our interview, I sent the Attorney General an email following up on several points of our discussion that seem to be particularly timely.
Below I present my June 5, 2020 email to AG Barr in its entirety:
Dear Attorney General Barr,
Today marks the one year anniversary of our conversation in your office at the Justice Department. Your interview kicked off the launch of my podcast, Crime Story, on August 8, 2019. I continue to be grateful for your willingness to talk with me then about issues related to our criminal justice system.
During our conversation, you answered several questions related to criminal justice reform, as well as my query about the themes underlying the series Banshee that spoke to you.
I would like to mark the anniversary of our chat by requesting that you revisit some of the matters we discussed. Below I pose several questions. If you can find the time to address them, it would be deeply appreciated and a great benefit to our listeners and readers. Please consider responding in any way that is convenient for you: in writing, on a scheduled phone call, or by leaving a message on my Google Voice number XXX-XXX-XXXX.
During our initial chat, you declined to answer the following question:
During your confirmation hearings you indicated that you weren’t familiar with the notion of implicit bias in law enforcement and you would task the Justice Department with looking into it. Have you done so?
Attorney General Barr:
Yes, but I’m not going to get into that question.
Would you be willing to answer that question now?
We also had the following exchange:
In a Post op-ed, you and a couple of other former Attorney Generals talked about the notion of the Ferguson Effect. Can you explain what … I think it’s this notion that protests like Black Lives Matter can lead to police backing off law enforcement and can lead to an increase in crime. Is that something you subscribe to?
Attorney General Barr:
I don’t know if the idea is that protests lead to that. I think the idea is that if police feel that they are going to be unfairly treated or unjustly disciplined for something they felt was a righteous act of self defense, and there’d be what they feel is unfair Monday morning quarterbacking, they will not take those risks. They will not confront crime where they think it can put them in danger, and the biggest losers of that can be people in high crime neighborhoods.
Would you care to elaborate on your response in light of the public response to the police-involved death of George Floyd, and the subsequent protests?
I also asked what it was about the Cinemax TV Series Banshee that you liked, and you responded:
Attorney General Barr:
Well, to be honest, the first thing that drew me to the show was, I think, the writing, the quality of the acting, the plots, sort of the unexpected story line and so forth. But it does have undergirding it this basic tension between justice in the sense of the ultimate outcome versus justice as a process. I’ve often talked about that, which is, I think, to me justice is the right outcome. That’s what really justice is, that’s what we have a longing … I believe a sense of justice is hardwired into human beings. Don’t ask me why, but it is there and it’s satisfying to see justice done. And we feel angry when we see injustice that isn’t rectified.
How would you relate that “sense of justice” and the anger “when we see injustice that isn’t rectified” to recent events?
In your press conference yesterday, NPR reported that you said:
“We have evidence that Antifa and other similar extremist groups, as well as actors of a variety of different political persuasions have been involved in instigating and participating in the violent activity…And we are also seeing foreign actors playing all sides to exacerbate the violence.”
Also, on Wednesday the DOJ announced the indictments of men affiliated with a right wing group called the “Boogaloo Bois” who seek to initiate a race war for conspiracy to cause destruction during protests in Las Vegas. (Here is the link to that announcement.).
Why is Antifa the only extremist group that you mention by name, when the Department of Justice has just announced indictments involving members of a right wing group?
Thank you for considering responses to these questions.
Crime Story Media, LLC
It has been two weeks since I sent the email, and I have not yet received a response.
Since I sent the email, on June 16, federal law enforcement officials announced that they were charging Air Force Sgt. Steven Carrillo with the shooting homicide of a federal security officer in Oakland. Carillo had previously been charged with the recent murder of a Santa Cruz sheriff’s deputy.
According to the LA Times, officials said that Carillo was affiliated with the same “Boogaloo” movement as the men charged with conspiracy to cause destruction in Las Vegas to whom I referred in my last question to the Attorney General.
I will certainly let you know if and when I do receive a reply, but if any curious journalists with access to the Attorney General would like to ask him any or all of these questions, I urge you to appropriate them as your own.
June 19, 2020
* Simultaneously with this interview we presented a conversation with Georgetown Law Professor and Crime Story Consulting Editor, Paul Butler in which Professor Butler offered his perspective on my interview with AG Barr. You can find that conversation here.