Attorney General Merrick Garland said racism is an “American problem” in an interview Monday, adding that he does not believe America has equal justice under the law.
“Look, racism is an American problem,” Garland told ABC News.
“It’s plain to me that there has been and remains discrimination against African Americans and other communities of color, and other ethnic minorities. I think it’s reflected in discrimination in housing and employment and the justice system,” he said. “We do not yet have equal justice under law.”
“This is an important part of the role of the Justice Department, to help bring it about,” Garland added.
The interview aired amid jury deliberations in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd last May.
But Garland declined to weigh in on what he thought the verdict should be and advised “the American people to do the same.”
President Biden, however, apparently didn’t hear the sound words of advice from his attorney general.
The president on Tuesday said he was “praying” that the jurors convict Chauvin.
“I’m praying the verdict is the right verdict. The evidence is overwhelming, in my view.”
Biden shared his comments with reporters at the White House, noting that he spoke to Floyd’s family after the sequestered jury began their deliberations.
“I’ve come to know George’s family … And his brother, both brothers,” the president said.
Garland said seeing video of police attacks on black men prompted him to reach out to Biden about nominating him as attorney general.
“I also saw the videos last summer, all through the summer. And like many Americans, I was shocked. But many black Americans were not shocked, because they have known of this kind of treatment before,” he told ABC News.
“I felt that beginning last summer, at least, there was a chance to bring this to the fore of the national consciousness, to create a moment in which we could change. And part of the reason that I wanted to be attorney general was I wanted to help bring that change,” he said.
Garland, a former judge on the US Court of Appeals in DC, was a young lawyer when he was sent to Oklahoma City to oversee the April 19, 1995, bombing investigation.
During his visit to Oklahoma City, Garland also traveled to Tulsa, where an all-white mob massacred more than 300 black people and burned thousands of homes in 1921.
“This is a moment where it’s important to come to a place like this,” Garland said as he walked with cameras through a park dedicated to the massacre in Tulsa with ABC.
“The kind of devastation that happened here is the product of the same kind of hatred that led to the bombing in Oklahoma City. … They are similar — kind — kinds of devastation brought by terrible hatred. And so I felt I needed to see it, face it.”
He grew emotional when he spoke about his grandparents, who fled anti-Semitism in Russia and came to the US.
“And the country took them in,” he said, pausing for a moment. “It protected them at a time when other countries wouldn’t.”
“So all of us in our family feel an obligation — public service — and try to protect other people the way the country protected us,” Garland said.
He also spoke about his reaction to being nominated to the Supreme Court by President Barack Obama in 2016 when then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to bring the nomination to the Senate floor for a vote.
“I now have the opportunity to do some very important things. I have the opportunity now to lead a Justice Department in pursuit of civil rights. I have a chance to lead a Justice Department in pursuit of the rule of law and ensuring the independence of the department, and its independence — particularly — from any kind of partisan influence in the way we bring investigations or prosecutions,” he said.
“And I have a chance to lead a department — sitting here in Oklahoma City — that needs to fight against domestic violent extremists, so that the kind of tragedy that we had in Oklahoma City doesn’t occur,” Garland said.