On Thursday, FBI Director James Comey spoke at Georgetown University and told students that police should avoid “lazy mental short-cuts” that could induce them to think differently of minorities.
Comey was critical of the history of law enforcement in the country, which he described as “not pretty,” and argued, “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.” He commented that there is research that “points to the widespread existence of unconscious [racial] bias” among Americans.
Trying to defend cops, Comey said police “don’t sign up to be cops in New York or Chicago or L.A. because they want to help white people or black people. They sign up because they want to help all people. And they do some of the hardest, most dangerous policing to protect people of color.”
I worry that this incredibly important and difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers when it should also be about something much harder to discuss. Debating the nature of policing is very important, but I worry that it has become an excuse at times to avoid doing something harder.
Comey also mentioned Eric Garner, Michael Brown, as well as murdered NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
Comey has required new FBI recruits to visit the Martin Luther King Memorial and the U.S. Holocaust Museum to warn against prejudice. He suggested that police departments report all shootings by officers so the FBI data is accurate and officers are better training for police departments, especially in small towns. The New York Times Magazine reported that Comey keeps a copy of the FBI request to wiretap Martin Luther King, Jr., on his desk “as a reminder of the bureau’s capacity to do wrong.”