Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
Remarks Delivered via Teleconference
The past week has been challenging for our country, and I am sure for everyone on this call. Let’s start with what happened in Minneapolis a week ago. I want to say that the video images of the incident that ended with the death of George Floyd were harrowing to watch and deeply, deeply disturbing. Attorney General Barr had the same reaction, and so has the President. And for a moment, it seemed as though the reaction to the videos was widely—and maybe even uniformly—shared throughout our country.
The Department of Justice has been involved in the investigation of what happened in Minneapolis since the beginning and remains fully committed to it. As you know, the state prosecutors in Minneapolis have already filed initial charges, and we have heard that additional announcements are being made today. But in addition to the local investigation and prosecution, our U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, our DOJ Civil Rights Division, and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office are conducting a robust criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death of George Floyd. The Department of Justice has made this investigation a top priority and has assigned experienced prosecutors and FBI criminal investigators to the matter, who are working diligently and collaboratively to ensure that the available evidence is obtained as quickly as possible. Our judicial system has a process for situations like this. It is being followed, and quickly. I am confident that justice will be served as a result.
Turning to the protests that have occurred in various cities around the country, Attorney General Barr has said that the “outrage of our national community about what happened to George Floyd is real and legitimate.” Peaceful expressions of protest are one of our rights as citizens. In some places, we have seen marches that were peaceful; I wish I could say that about more of them.
Instead, with respect to the rioting that is occurring in many of our cities around the country, the voices of peaceful and legitimate protests have been hijacked by violent elements. In many places around the country, we have seen violence, looting, arson, and assaults. We have seen looting of stores both large and small, whether Target, Macy’s, or local independent small businesses. We have witnessed Molotov cocktails and arson against buildings, cars, and even people. I even heard of the shameful example of two young lawyers in New York, now indicted by the Eastern District of New York, who threw a Molotov cocktail into a police car. There has been vandalism and arson against federal and city buildings. In Washington, D.C., there has been vandalism against national monuments such as the Lincoln Memorial and the World War II Memorial, and as many probably know, a historic church was set on fire. And this week, there were multiple shootings of police officers, including four in one city.
Violence and destruction of property endangers the lives and livelihood of others, and it interferes with the rights of peaceful protestors, as well as other citizens. It is also important to note that it undercuts the urgent work that needs to be done— through constructive engagement between affected communities and law enforcement leaders—to address legitimate grievances. We are concerned that groups of outside radicals and agitators are exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate, violent, and extremist agenda. As a society, we cannot tolerate the continued violence and destruction of property or the endangerment of lives.
While police protection during protest gatherings is mostly a local task, the Department of Justice is not hesitating to take federal action where appropriate to help ensure the security of our communities. DOJ is taking a number of appropriate actions to help. I will briefly mention three.
First, let me say with regard to the violence that we are focused on possible federal prosecutions where that is warranted and feasible, especially as to out-of-state agitators. On Monday, the President and Attorney General Barr had a conference with state Governors, and one of the points that the Attorney General made was that there are sometimes federal offenses involved with rioting, particularly with regard to outsiders who travel to the site of the riot. For example, federal charges can be brought for conduct such as arson, the possession or use of destructive devices, certain threatening communications, and interstate conspiracies and rioting. There are many instances of individuals being arrested who are not from the location where the looting, arson, and violence has occurred. We have already made arrests in multiple locations and are considering federal charges for numerous individuals arrested by state/local police. For example, our U.S. Attorney in Minnesota announced charges against an Illinois man who had traveled to Minneapolis with explosive devices to riot, and who had posted social media videos of himself passing out explosives, and assisting others to light a building on fire and loot businesses. The Attorney General and I have repeatedly said that DOJ and all of our 93 US Attorneys across the country will support local efforts and take all action necessary to enforce federal law.
A second thing the Attorney General referenced in the discussion with the Governors was our using a pre-existing structure of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs). DOJ has activated our existing network of 56 regional FBI JTTFs to identify criminal organizers and instigators, and to coordinate federal resources with our state and local partners. JTTFs are well-suited to this task, because they are already existing coordination organizations that combine intelligence and operational resources and combine both federal and local law enforcement. It is a convenient and effective mechanism that has already proven effective in other contexts. All JTTF command centers are operating on a 24/7 basis. As the Attorney General said, we will be coordinating and sharing intelligence about violent groups or individuals with all of our state and local partners through these JTTFs.
Third, DOJ has assisted by surging federal law enforcement resources to specific locations to aid state and local law enforcement with quelling unrest and maintaining order. In some locations, including Washington DC, we have deputized members of the federal law enforcement agencies to allow them to provide peacekeeping functions in support of state and local authorities. We have deployed United States Marshals, FBI agents, Bureau of Prisons (BOP) officers, as well as Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, and agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). We are drawing on all available resources and supplies to help cities protect lives and prevent violence. We are also in constant communication with our U.S. Attorneys around the country, who are working with their state and local counterparts and their local elected officials, keeping DOJ plugged into what is happening on the ground in our Nation’s cities.
Where state and local jurisdictions are concerned, it is of course the responsibility of state and local leaders to ensure that adequate law enforcement resources, including the National Guard where necessary, are deployed on the streets to preserve order. One of the points that Attorney General Barr made about this in the President’s call with Governors was that, in order to both provide protection of facilities and people during a protest and still have police officers available to pursue those who commit criminal acts, it can be very important to have a large enough presence of law enforcement personnel. I understand that approximately 28 states have called upon their local National Guard for additional support, and so far it seems that having a large enough presence along with law enforcement has proven very beneficial to preserving order in places like Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Washington DC. This is obviously an important issue for Mayors and Governors to consider.
I also want to note something I have not seen reported widely: at this juncture at least 300 law enforcement personnel have been injured during the riots, several have been shot, and at least one has been killed. I know that there are multiple tragic circumstances that are concerning to people, but this really needs to be one of them.
One final thought I would like to leave with you. As a country, we take a lot of justifiable pride in that we are a nation that adheres to the rule of law. Even when our system of government is stressed the need to respect the rule of law should continue to be honored. It is my hope that all of us as Americans can advance the cause of the rule of law and the cause of justice in the days ahead. Thanks to all of you.