William Barr says communities will not have "police protections" without respect for officers

Barr under fire for comments about policing

Washington — Attorney General William Barr is igniting fresh controversy with comments that some see as a threat to communities of color. He was at a ceremony honoring the work of law enforcement at the Justice Department when he said communities they serve have to start showing "respect."

"They have to start showing more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. If communities don't give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need," Barr said.

Critics like activist DeRay Mckesson called those comments a threat aimed at communities of color.

"Barr was using coded language to highlight black and brown communities as the communities that are 'critical of police,'" Mckesson said.

Fatal shootings and excessive force by the police — much of it caught on cell phone and body cameras — have prompted widespread protests. Ever since Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson in 2014, departments across the country have tried to improve police-community relations.

While the Obama administration pushed for reform of local police forces to curb any potential misconduct, the Trump administration has taken a different approach. One, critics argue, that favors the police.

"It is wholly irresponsible for the nation's chief law enforcement officer to criticize people who are seeking a better, more fair system as being anti-police," said Vanita Gupta, who served in the Justice Department under Obama.

Attorney General Barr is standing by his comments on Wednesday. The DOJ did not want to clarify when CBS News asked. Law enforcement sources said they weren't comfortable with Barr's comments but they also acknowledged that this is a tough environment for police and a lot of departments are having a difficult time recruiting.