A surprising speech by F.B.I director, James B. Comey, focused on police and race issues. At Georgetown on Thursday, the F.B.I. director discussed race issues very frankly to students and other attendees.
His speech talked about the relationship between police and black people, saying that the police forces in high crime urban areas become jaded when it comes to race and crime. In areas where blacks commit more crime, the police develop a cynicism that interferes with their attitudes towards race. Comey elaborated by saying that officers develop a mental prejudice toward black people after all the crime they have witnessed.
Comey makes it clear that the police forces as well as the public needs to realize this bias and “come to grips with the fact this behavior effects the relationships between the police and the communities served.” He also said that despite the race issue, this problem does not fall entirely on the police force. It is a nationwide problem that developed due to the hardest-hit neighborhoods “lacking role models, adequate education and decent employment.”
In the past, directors have limited their publicized comments on civil rights issues, including race issues. For instance, when Martin Luther King Jr.’s phones conversations were listened in on by the F.B.I.
Comey later said he wanted to present this speech because of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson. He did not want to see “important issues to drift away” and also felt that the country had not had a “healthy conversation” since the shooting.
When the F.B.I. director discussed these racial issues, he also recommended that officers should make an effort to take time to get to know their communities. He shared with the audience that recent research had found that all people are born with racial bias, however he said that should not be a crutch to lean on. “It is what we do next that matters most,” the director announced. He feels that it is simply outrageous that he is unable to tell someone how many individuals were shot by a police officer in this past year alone.
When Mr. Comey was a university student at William and Mary, he came out with a paper that discussed similar issues. The article, criticizing the school for spending more on athletics then they did on diversifying the campus, was published in the school newspaper.
Comey’s candid speech also introduced the idea that racial prejudices in police do not only pertain to white officers. He calls for a new procedure; agencies should record all police based shootings to set a base-line number for the average amount of nationwide shootings per year.
Four recent shootings, including that of Michael Brown, started nationwide protests that ultimately inspired Comey to write this speech. He believes that officers, and the public, need to realize that “history has not been pretty” and to push aside racial issues “is ridiculous.” The F.B.I. director decided to give his speech publicly in order to frankly discuss racial issues that currently seem to be avoided.
Written by Audrey Madden
Photo by – Bill Dickinson – Creative Commons License