To FBI Director James Comey: Thank you

In a speech in Washington today, FBI Director James Comey offered a heartfelt, candid assessment of the often strained and dangerous relationship between America’s law-enforcement community and those it is supposed to protect and serve, particularly in minority communities.

James Comey … as American as they come?

The contrast between his statements and those of thuggish police union officials in New York City, Cleveland and St. Louis on the same issue could not be more stark. It was a brave, thoughtful effort all too rare in American public life, an effort to try to see painful conflicts through the eyes of those on the other side, and to try to bridge the chasm that divides them.

The entire speech is available here, but let me cite some of the core excerpts:

“First, all of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty. At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups …

There is a reason I require all new agents and analysts to study the FBI’s interaction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial in Washington as part of their training. And there is a reason I keep on my desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of J. Edgar Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. King. The entire application is five sentences long, it is without fact or substance, and is predicated on the naked assertion that there is “communist influence in the racial situation.” The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.

Of course, it is always easier to admit to mistakes that were made in the past, by other people in other times. It is more difficult and more rare to admit to ongoing mistakes, particularly in the midst of controversy and confrontation, when the human instinct is to raise the defensive shields. But Comey presses on, acknowledging the reality of racial bias, which can be a very different thing than racism.

“Much research points to the widespread existence of unconscious bias. Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face. We all—white and black—carry various biases around with us. I am reminded of the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway hit “Avenue Q”:

‘Look around and you will find
No one’s really color blind.
Maybe it’s a fact
We all should face
Everyone makes judgments
Based on race.'”

It’s not everyday that you see the nation’s top law-enforcement official cite “Avenue Q”. But Comey also wants to make it clear that despite claims to the contrary by some, “racial bias isn’t epidemic in those who join law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts.”  To the contrary, most people are drawn to law enforcement by the opportunity to help others, regardless of their race or background.

“But that leads me to a third hard truth: something happens to people in law enforcement. Many of us develop different flavors of cynicism that we work hard to resist because they can be lazy mental shortcuts. For example, criminal suspects routinely lie about their guilt, and the people we charge are overwhelmingly guilty. That makes it easy for folks in law enforcement to assume that everybody is lying and that no suspect, regardless of their race, could be innocent. Easy, but wrong.

Likewise, police officers on patrol in our nation’s cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.

A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two young white men on the other side of the street—even in the same clothes—do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior. The officer turns toward one side of the street and not the other. We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve.”

In one sense, Comey isn’t revealing anything that common sense and a basic knowledge of human nature didn’t already tell us. The news is that he acknowledged it, and by acknowledging it, he makes it possible to talk about in terms of human failing rather than intentional evil. As he acknowledges, it must be resisted. Bias and prejudice must be resisted, and law enforcement has to do a better job at that.

“We must better understand the people we serve and protect—by trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency.”

Fair enough. But Comey then dares to take the conversation a level deeper still, into root causes. If a disproportionate share of those arrested by police are young men of color, why is that? Isn’t that too worth talking about?

“So many young men of color become part of that officer’s experience because so many minority families and communities are struggling, so many boys and young men grow up in environments lacking role models, adequate education, and decent employment—they lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted.

A tragedy of American life—one that most citizens are able to drive around because it doesn’t touch them—is that young people in “those neighborhoods” too often inherit from that dysfunction a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer’s life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or black—sees the world. Changing that legacy is a challenge so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops. And that’s not fair.”

Cops, like public school teachers, attempt to deal with the consequences of a string of failures — failure of community, failure of family, failure of the individual — that began long before the moment at which law enforcement and suspect interact. And as Comey points out, cops have a tough job. If law enforcement must work harder to avoid cynicism and easy answers, if it must redouble its efforts to try to see through the eyes of the community in which it serves, it is not too much to ask that the community do the same.

” … the “seeing” needs to flow in both directions. Citizens also need to really see the men and women of law enforcement. They need to see what police see through the windshields of their squad cars, or as they walk down the street. They need to see the risks and dangers law enforcement officers encounter on a typical late-night shift. They need to understand the difficult and frightening work they do to keep us safe. They need to give them the space and respect to do their work, well and properly.

If they take the time to do that, what they will see are officers who are human, who are overwhelmingly doing the right thing for the right reasons, and who are too often operating in communities—and facing challenges—most of us choose to drive around.”

As a law enforcement professional, Comey also wants to measure. In discussions afterward with the press, he talked about the fact that the Centers for Disease Control can tell us how people were treated for the flu last week in emergency rooms across the country, but we have no real idea how many Americans, and how many African-Americans ,are shot and killed by law enforcement. “It’s ridiculous I can’t tell you how many people were shot by police — last week or last year,” he said.

“I recently listened to a thoughtful big city police chief express his frustration with that lack of reliable data. He said he didn’t know whether the Ferguson police shot one person a week, one a year, or one a century, and that in the absence of good data, ‘all we get are ideological thunderbolts, when what we need are ideological agnostics who use information to try to solve problems.'”

And why don’t we have that data? I suspect because we have not wanted to have that data. It is inconvenient to have that data. Once you know the number, pressure will grow to reduce it. People start looking over other people’s shoulders, asking uncomfortable questions. But Comey committed himself to uncovering and reporting that data. “I intend for the FBI to be a leader in urging departments around the country to give us the facts we all need for informed discussion and to make sound policy,” he said in his speech.

But most of all, “We all need to talk and we all need to listen, not just about easy things, but about hard things, too. Relationships are hard. Relationships require work, but they are worth it.” Quoting Dr. King, he said, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Reader Comments 0

673 comments
straker
straker

Bulls - "Susan Rice would not allow the Marines to return fire"


Susan Rice runs the Marine Corps?


Wow!!


I learn something new here every day.

AyeAyeSir
AyeAyeSir

@straker 


No ............ but she may unduly influence the president who as Commander in Chief could order the Secretary of Defense to order the Commandant of the Marine Corps to order ....................... well, you get the picture.

JoeBobJoe
JoeBobJoe

Another odumbama appointee,  Never patrolled a beat and never worked as a law enforcement officer.  But, knows what life is in the trenches for the front line law enforcement people is like.

honested
honested

@JoeBobJoe 

Why do you people find such joy in denigrating successful public servants?

King_of_Kolob
King_of_Kolob

@JoeBobJoe Right. he never body-slammed a 57y-o Indian man to the ground and left him paralyzed so he is not qualified to lead the FBI. It is better to keep your mouth shut and let people believe you are stupid than to ......blah...blah....blah. 

Brosephus
Brosephus

@honested

Because they've never been a successful public servant themselves, and they likely don't like seeing others achieve success they can't achieve.  Jealousy does that to some people.

JoeBobJoe
JoeBobJoe

@Brosephus @honested Successful public servant?  Right, They don't have to worry about a pay check and its hard than he88 to try and fire them.

JoeBobJoe
JoeBobJoe

@King_of_Kolob  Maybe he got what he got  he deserved.   Remember the nice guy in NC was not that nice.  Can we say a piece of garbage.   p.s  the shooter was not a Fox news viewer,  he was a libetard.

gotalife
gotalife

As I set a better example for better politics in America, I will post only good news and not argue with the cons.


Also, time for reflection on how far we have come on race relations and the performance of our first minority President.

Squirrel_Whisperer
Squirrel_Whisperer

@Visual_Cortex The last time I posted at Kyle's it took an hour for my comment to appear. Ya kind of lose your train of thought by then. Oh, look, a squirrel!

Visual_Cortex
Visual_Cortex

@Squirrel_Whisperer @Visual_Cortex

In theory, it should produce thoughtful, tidily summarized reactions to what he's written. And sometimes it works out that way. But obviously, it's a polar-opposite experience from the real-time adventures of the other soap operas in production.

Brosephus
Brosephus

@JohnnyReb 

Read your response from earlier, and I commend you on getting to where you are from where you started.  Like you, I come from a mill town, and I am much, much better off than my parents were.  My kids have it better than I did growing up.  I'm sure you're a bit older than me, but I know where you're coming from.

I also know that the mills shut down in my area, starting in the 80s.  The opportunities to raise a family there are not what they used to be.  That's the part of the socioeconomic breakdown of this country.  Where you see opportunity for all, I visit home and see that not all have opportunity.

There was a time where you could graduate high school, get a job in a mill or plant, and you could take care of your family while you raised the next generation.  Those jobs are just about gone from my hometown.  Where there's ample job opportunity here in Metro Atlanta, you can't sell that to people living in the Black Belt part of Alabama or even NE Alabama where I'm from.  It gets far worse when you enter areas like Eastern Kentucky.

People jump the shark when they try to make it a Black/White issue when it's economic opportunity.  It's basically the same as the giving a man a fish vs teaching a man how to fish parable.  The only difference is that you have to consider teaching a man how to fish does nothing when he has nowhere to fish.  That's the problem many face nowadays, and we're giving them the finger. 

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@Brosephus @JohnnyReb - the mills, there were two, where I grew up closed years ago and are falling down.  The company sold the houses to those that could afford them.  With no one governing what an owner can and cannot do, and poverty abounding the place is much less than when I was there.


I completely agree on your statement on not having a place to fish.  And, that's probably one of the biggest reasons I disagree with Democratic theory.  I'm all for helping people in need but not to the point of making them dependent, which I think Dem policy has and does.


Dems belittle our theory of growing the pie so more can have a piece, call it trickle down, etc. but in my opinion its better to move a guy to where there is a place to fish than simply to make him dependent with no other plan. 

Bulls_3y3
Bulls_3y3

@gotalife bad news is the Susan Rice would not allow the marines to return fire.  Thankfully ISIS was driven off by the Iraqi army. Micro-management at its worst.

LeninTime
LeninTime

@JohnnyReb 

Putin may just be playing with less than a full deck, but he seems to win.

***
How's Putin winning in this situation? 

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

"The contrast between his statements and those of thuggish police union officials in New York City, Cleveland and St. Louis on the same issue could not be more stark." THUGGISH, WHY,did the union officials riot and burn down businesses, did they rob people, what? Are you just peeved because they dared utter dissatisfaction and contempt with the treatment they received from the mayor. All they did was speak, and you consider them THUGS for doing so.

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

"Once you know the number, pressure will grow to reduce it."Why would you say that. Are you suggesting it is better to react "because" something happens without even bothering to figure out "WHY" something is happening. OR are you working from the premise that all shooting are unjustified and the police are always wrong???? 

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

"And why don’t we have that data? I suspect because we have not wanted to have that data. "  You SUSPECT, you don't know so you just throw it out there for no reason. WHY????

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@Doggone_GA @InTheMiddle2  I don't make an assumption. I would like the facts as in. Does anybody collect any data, are there requirements for collecting data, what is the procedure for police shootings and what information is collected, is there a federal data base to collect the data, are departments currently in compliance,  and on and on. Assumptions don't ""make sense" they only fill an emotional need when data is absent.. 

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@Doggone_GA @InTheMiddle2  You are ASSUMING that is what it is, you have no real idea. It is better to deal with facts than assumption. Working from an assumption proves is lazy. It takes WORK to get to the real truth. But I guess for the purpose of ideology, assumptions are the way to go.

Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

@InTheMiddle2 @Doggone_GA Ok, then what is your ASSUMPTION about why that data IS NOT gathered? 

See how that works?  Neither of us knows for sure...so we have to make guesses (assumptions)

The question then becomes: which assumption makes the most sense

InTheMiddle2
InTheMiddle2

@Doggone_GA @InTheMiddle2  The more accurate phrase could be "

"And why don’t we have that data? I don't know for certain, but this is something that must be done if we are ever going to find the truth"

gotalife
gotalife

Good morning Bookman bloggers.


How are you today?

Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

@InTheMiddle2 @gotalife I'm here...that's as good as it gets right now.  I try hard not to be superstitious, but I'm never comfortable on Fri 13th.  Quite a while ago now I attended a dog show in Macon on Fri 13th and a tornado came through the park.  Left me a bit leery of Fri 13th.

straker
straker

Nobody

KUTGF

St  Simons


None of you were able to refute what I said.


So, you resorted to insults, just as I knew you would.

KUTGF
KUTGF

@straker  Insults?  Your comprehension is apparently as devoid of reality as your prior post.

alexander2
alexander2

another pundit wasting your time...

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

so is the GOP going to shut down DHS this month? Dang, have they learned nothing?

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@consumedconsumer - not so.


If a shutdown occurs it will be Democrat Senators who are responsible.


It's amazing how the Liberal mind always processes things to be the opposing parties fault.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@consumedconsumer - oh, I forgot.


Yes, we did learn a lot.  We learned that while the Left and Lap Media preached to the Nation how the Cruz led shutdown hurt Republicans the reality was taking control of the Senate and gaining more seats in the House.

JohnnyReb
JohnnyReb

@consumedconsumer @JohnnyReb - so far, McConnell and Boehner are trying to play by traditional rules.  Why escapes me since Dems have done any and everything against tradition to pass bills.


They should pass the bill under Reconciliation and let the Nation watch Obama shut down HS with a veto because his lawlessness on immigration is more important to him.

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@JohnnyReb @consumedconsumer traditional rules? what on earth are you talking about? the rules that have been in existence since day one of Obama's first term are it takes 60 votes to play in the Senate. The GOP instituted that rule. It's now a tradition. Get used to it . . . or do away with the filibuster to get your way on everything the way you hoped the Ds would do for you. I guess we should be thankful that they didn't carry that water for y'all as well, thought at times the free for all would be good.

fiftythreepercenter
fiftythreepercenter

@JohnnyReb @consumedconsumer Yea, liberal "logic" says when the Dems were in control it was the R's fault and now that the R's are in control, it's still the R's fault.


These dems ain't the brightest bulbs...

consumedconsumer
consumedconsumer

@JohnnyReb LOL . . . y'all 'control' both houses of Congress don't you? No you understand the power of a simple no and how it stops you from getting everything you want without having to compromise in a legislative process. 


Amazing how the conservative mind always processes things to be someone else's fault.