US Attorney General Bill Barr compared US coronavirus lockdowns to American slavery on Wednesday night as it was revealed he is encouraging prosecutors to charge police brutality and racial injustice protesters with sedition whenever possible.
Barr spoke out at the Constitution Day celebration at Hillsdale College in Michigan, suggesting the measures put in place to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 were on par with an alternative to being put in prison, but one step down from the restrictions slaves endured.
‘You know, putting a national lockdown, stay at home orders, is like house arrest. Other than slavery, which was a different kind of restraint, this is the greatest intrusion on civil liberties in American history,’ Barr told a crowd which applauded in response, CNN reported.
Barr likened the pandemic to life for Black people before slavery was abolished after he was asked to explain ‘constitutional hurdles for forbidding a church from meeting during Covid-19.’
He then blasted state governors, claiming they were using their executive powers to prevent businesses from reopening and people from returning to work.
‘Most of the governors do what bureaucrats always do, which is they … defy common sense,’ Barr said. ‘They treat free citizens as babies that can’t take responsibility for themselves and others.
‘We have to give business people an opportunity, tell them what the rules are you know the masks, which rule of masks, you had this month… and then let them try to adapt their business to that and you’ll have ingenuity and people will at least have the freedom to try to earn a living.’
More than 6 million American have been infected with the virus and 196,000 have died from COVID-19.
Barr’s speech came on the same day it was revealed he told federal prosecutors that protesters demonstrating for reforms of a justice system that has been compared to modern-day slavery, could be charged with sedition.
As the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington, declared racism a public health issue this summer, protesters have also asked for equality in wider systems.
Amid the demonstrations, the CDC also said in July that long-standing systemic health and social inequities have put many people from racial and ethnic minority groups at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19.
It’s due to factors such as discrimination, the income gap and disproportionate representation in essential work.
The Wall Street Journal said Barr told federal district attorneys in a conference call last week that a law against plotting to overthrow the US government was among charges they could use against participants when protests turn violent.
The WSJ reported that he divulged details of two statutes that could help bring about the charges.
In order to prove sedition, they would have to prove imminent danger to government officials or agents as part of a conspiracy. However without the plot it can fall under expressing violent anti-government sentiment under the First Amendment.
Another statute could bring federal charges on someone who obstructs law enforcement responding to unrest.
CNN and the New York Times confirmed the recommendation by Barr.
Two people on the call said Barr has asked whether charges could be brought on Seattle’s Mayor Jenny Durkan for allowing people to create a police-free zone.
Barr said on Wednesday that the Supreme Court has determined the executive branch has ‘virtually unchecked discretion’ on whether to go ahead with a prosecution.
‘The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,’ Barr said at an event in Washington celebrating the Constitution. ‘That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.’