Lawrence to Trump’s AG: ‘Stay woke’ on civil rights

Brenda Lawrence at the 2018 AFGE Legislative Conference. | Keith Mellnick, Flickr

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence wants President Trump’s attorney general to “stay woke” when it comes to pursuing civil rights violations.

Lawrence, a Democrat from Southfield, criticized U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a Capitol Hill hearing on Tuesday for what she perceived as his lack of awareness regarding the administration’s pursuit of cases relating to hate crimes, police bias and disability rights.

U..S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence questions U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a April 9, 2019 hearing

She pointed to recent reporting that U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division has started 60 percent fewer cases under Trump than it did during the former President Obama administration and 50 percent fewer than under the former President George W. Bush administration.

Barr said he wasn’t familiar with those figures, but said, “We have an enviable record of prosecuting hate crimes at the same or higher rate than previous administrations, as far as I’m aware.”

He added, “I’m very concerned about hate crimes and intend to vigorously pursue them.”

Lawrence told him, “Attorney general, I want you to — we use the word[s] ‘stay woke’ sometimes in community activism — where you are in tune with what’s happening on the ground.”  

She said she understands that Barr hasn’t been on the job long; he was confirmed on Feb. 14.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr at a April 9, 2019 hearing

“But I can tell you that this is something that’s very important and I expect for you to be informed and aware of what’s happening in this area,” she told him.

Barr later said he considers it a priority to make sure that data aren’t understating the levels of hate crimes by improving how local jurisdictions report those incidents to the Justice Department.

“One of the things we have to do is get a better handle on the actual level of this, where it is and so forth and that depends on reporting and we’re trying to improve that,” Barr said.

Lawrence replied, “Thank you, that’s a lot better answer than before.”

Robin Bravender
Michigan native Robin Bravender is the DC Bureau Chief for the Newsroom, a consortium of 10 nonprofit news publications, including the Michigan Advance. Previously, Robin was a reporter for Politico, E&E News and Thomson Reuters.

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