Attorney General William Barr said communities of color are often policed differently than white neighborhoods and that something has to be done to address the situation.
During a Wednesday interview with ABC News, Barr described the unfair policing as a "widespread phenomenon."
"I do think it is a widespread phenomenon that African American males, in particular, are treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt," Barr told ABC's chief justice correspondent Pierre Thomas. "I think it is wrong if people are not respected appropriately and given their due and I think it's something we have to address."
Barr's comments come amid nationwide protests calling for change in policing that erupted after several unarmed Black Americans were killed by law enforcement officers.
Barr said he hopes that the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis in May, "is a catalyst for the kinds of changes that are needed."
"Before the George Floyd incident I thought we were in a good place," he said. "I think that this episode in Minneapolis showed that we still have some work to do in addressing the distrust that exists in the African American community toward law enforcement."
Barr said he doesn't see any value in defunding police departments. Rather, he said there should be a focus on investing more into police departments.
"So one of the things we've been talking about is trying to direct some of the [Health and Human Services] money and grant programs and sync it up with law enforcement spending so we can enable the departments to have co-responders. That is, social workers and mental health experts who can go on certain kinds of calls to help."
The Justice Department conducted one civil rights investigation into police use of force, and Barr said a drug unit in the Springfield, Massachusetts, police department "was engaged in a pattern and practice of using excessive force."
When it comes to the Black Lives Matter movement, Barr said "obviously Black lives matter," but added he disagrees with the organization and its agenda.
He said the number of Black lives that are lost to police misconduct are trending downward.
"Five years ago, there were 40 such incidents," he said. "This last year it was 10. So at least it's a positive trajectory there. But then you compare it to a thousand homicides in the African American community. Those Black lives matter, too. And those are lives that are protected by the police."
He said the movement should broaden its focus and promote economic advancement for Black Americans, not "just physical safety."
"It's not just protecting life. It's Black lives matter in ensuring that African Americans fully participate in the benefits of this society and their lives flourish," Barr said. "It goes beyond just physical safety. It goes to getting good education, it goes to having economic opportunities."
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