In true white privilege form, U.S. Attorney General William Barr likened coronavirus lockdowns to slavery on Wednesday.
CNN reports that the nation's "top cop" made these remarks during an appearance at Hillsdale College, where he was speaking in celebration of Constitution Day.
When asked a question about the constitutionality of restricting church services during the pandemic, Barr showed off his lack of ability to recall U.S. history and made a jarring comparison.
"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," the attorney general said.
There are quite a few things in American history that could be considered greater "intrusions on civil liberties" than the current pandemic-related restrictions. Just in case Mr. Barr needs a reminder, here are a few things, in no particular order, besides slavery that were significantly worse violations against civil liberties in America:
Jim Crow and segregation
Remember how, after the Civil War, Black people lived happily ever after. Yeah, me neither. Instead, southern states enacted Black Codes that forced newly freed folks to work exploitative jobs or go to jail. Jim Crow excluded Black people from whites-only schools, lunch counters, neighborhoods, parks, cemeteries and even phone booths.
Lynching of Black people
When the law wasn't enough to keep Black people down, killings and violence did. The NAACP estimates that at least 3,446 Black people were lynched between 1882-1968. Many times, police watched or even participated in these murders.
Ethnic cleansing of Indigeneous people
After being nearly wiped out through contact with white settlers, the surviving indigenous people of this land were forcibly removed from their reservations, had their legal sovereignty repeatedly violated and often died en route while relocating.
Denial of Native American citizenship
Native Americans did not gain full citizenship rights in the U.S. until 1924. And even then, Native Americans were forced to assimilate while having their children kidnapped and placed in "boarding schools" that taught them not to follow their families' cultures. Native American voting rights were not fully granted until 1962 and, unfortunately, faced many of the same voting obstacles as Black people.
Restrictions on women's rights
Black and Indigenous women often had little to no rights during the founding years of America. White women also faced limiting restrictions for much of this country's history. They were limited in their ability to own property, enter into contracts and vote. The law didn't even acknowledge the right of women to refuse sex with their husbands until 1975.
Asian immigrants and their descendants have often been treated as second-class citizens or residents of the U.S., and often not even let into the country. Perhaps the worst incident occurred during WWII, when over 100,000 people of Japanese descent, most of whom were U.S. citizens, were locked up between 1942-1945 on the racist assumption that they would be more loyal to Japan than to America.
Anti-Hispanic discrimination and immigration policies
Latinx folks in the U.S. have long faced suspicion, discrimination and often arbitrary arrest and detention. Undocumented immigrants have periodically been swept up, detained under abusive conditions and deported with little to no opportunity to defend themselves. Hispanic Americans also suffered segregation and lynching. Often, these policies made little to no distinction between undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants and even Spanish-speaking or Latinx American citizens.
Denial of LGBTQ+ rights
Until 1961, consenting adults of the same sex could be jailed in every U.S. state; the last of these "sodomy" laws were struck down in 2003. In 1953, gay people were banned from working for the federal government. Gay and lesbian soldiers could not openly serve in the military until 2011. Additionally, states were lawfully allowed to ban same-sex marriage until 2015. Discrimination against LGBTQ people was not explicitly prohibited by federal law until just three months ago.
Civil and human rights violations in 2020
I could get into mass incarceration, unjustified police violence against Black people, ICE detention centers, anti-trans discrimination and violence, mass surveillance, post 9-11 targeting of Muslims, and a whole lot of other things that the attorney general could hopefully learn for himself by watching the news but it's likely that he'd rather bask in his ignorance.
Hopefully, this quick review of U.S. history will help Mr. Barr put the current lockdowns in perspective. On second thought, though, this is the same man who can acknowledge the "widespread phenomenon that African American males, in particular, are treated with extra suspicion and maybe not given the benefit of the doubt” and still deny that systemic racism exists in policing. So maybe he already knows about all these things, but just doesn't think they're all that important.