WASHINGTON, D.C. – FBI Director Christopher Wray delivered the following remarks during a virtual press conference at the Department of Justice with Attorney General William P. Barr regarding coordination efforts related to the civil unrest occurring in the wake of the May 25, 2020 death of George Floyd. Also speaking at the press conference were U.S. Marshals Director Donald W. Washington, Bureau of Prisons Director Michael Carvajal, Drug Enforcement Administration Acting Administrator Timothy Shea, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Acting Director Regina Lombardo.
This is an incredibly challenging time for our country and for all the citizens we serve. I want to begin by expressing my deepest sympathies for George Floyd and his family. Like most of you, I was appalled and profoundly troubled by the video images of the incident that ended with Mr. Floyd’s tragic death.
Within hours of his death on May 25, the FBI had opened a criminal investigation to determine whether the actions by the former Minneapolis Police Department officers involved violated federal law. We’re moving quickly in that investigation, and we’re going to follow the facts wherever they may lead, in our pursuit of justice.
Mr. Floyd’s family, like a lot of families who have lost loved ones in recent weeks, are suffering right now, and trying to find a way forward. In fact, our entire country is trying to find a way forward. That’s because this isn’t just about George Floyd. This is about all of those, over the years, who have been unjustifiably killed or had their rights violated by people entrusted with their protection.
When law enforcement fails to fulfill its most basic duty to protect and serve its citizens, particularly members of a minority community, it not only tarnishes the badge we all wear, but erodes the trust that we in law enforcement have worked so hard to build. And when people feel that we haven’t lived up to the trust that they place in us, it is understandable that they want to speak out and protest.
The FBI holds sacred the rights of individuals to peacefully exercise their First Amendment freedoms. Non-violent protests are signs of a healthy democracy, not an ailing one. The FBI’s mission is to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. That mission is both dual and simultaneous—it is not contradictory. In engaging with our communities during these protests, we in law enforcement must balance the safety and security of our communities with our citizens’ constitutional rights and civil liberties. One need not—and must not—come at the expense of the other.
In recent days, the violence, threat to life, and destruction of property that we’ve seen in some parts of the country jeopardizes the rights and safety of all citizens, including peaceful demonstrators. It has to stop. We’re seeing people who are exploiting this situation to pursue violent, extremist agendas—anarchists like Antifa and other agitators. These individuals have set out to sow discord and upheaval, rather than join in the righteous pursuit of equality and justice. And by driving us apart, they are undermining the urgent work and constructive engagement of all those who are trying to bring us together—our community and religious leaders, our elected officials, law enforcement, and citizens alike. Many have suffered from the violence instigated through these radicals and extremists, including members of our own law enforcement family—officers killed or gravely injured while just doing their jobs, fulfilling their duty to the public by trying to keep everyone safe.
To be clear, we’re not in any way trying to discourage peaceful protestors. And to those citizens who are out there, making your voices heard through peaceful, lawful protests, let me say this—we in law enforcement hear you. We have to make sure that our policing and our investigations are conducted with the professionalism and commitment to equal justice that you all deserve. But we are also committed to identifying, investigating, and stopping individuals who are inciting violence and engaging in criminal activity.
So at the FBI, we’re focusing our efforts on supporting our law enforcement partners with maintaining public safety in the communities we’re sworn to protect. We’re making sure that we’re tightly lashed up with our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners across the country, by standing up 24-hour command posts in all of our 56 field offices. We have directed our 200 Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the country to assist local law enforcement with apprehending and charging violent agitators who are hijacking peaceful protests. On a national level, we’re soliciting tips, leads, and video evidence of criminal activities through our National Threat Operations Center—NTOC. And over the past few days, I have been speaking with law enforcement leaders in various parts of the country to ensure that we are providing the support they need, and to let them know that in every community, the FBI stands ready to assist wherever we can. The relationships we’ve built with our law enforcement and community partners are more important now than ever. Because the reality is we can’t do our jobs without the trust of the American people.
I want to close by reiterating that the FBI will remain steadfast in its mission to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution. Protecting civil liberties and civil rights has been part of our mission since the days of the Civil Rights Movement. These investigations are at the heart of what we do, for the simple reason that civil liberties and civil rights are at the very heart of who we are as Americans.
Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government left protection of civil rights to state and local governments. It took the Mississippi Burning case and the Civil Rights Act for the federal government, and the FBI, to get off the sidelines and to begin to fully protect civil rights for all people of color. Since then, we’ve been working hard to identify and prevent hate crimes and to investigate abuses of power and authority. Our civil rights cases are among the most important work we do, and that will never change.
I’ll repeat today what I’ve long believed about the men and women of law enforcement: It takes an incredibly special person to willingly put his or her life on the line for a complete stranger. And to get up, day after day after day, and do that is extraordinary. In these turbulent times, we won’t forget the bravery of our law enforcement members who have risked life and safety to protect the public and keep the peace.
But the difficulty of that job doesn’t diminish the role we play in society, which is to protect and serve all citizens—no matter their race, creed, orientation, or station in life. And when we lose sight of those solemn obligations to the citizens we serve, the protectors can quickly become the oppressors, particularly for communities of color. As law enforcement, we’re bound by an oath to serve all members of our community with equal compassion, professionalism, dignity, and respect. The American people should expect nothing less from us.