FBI Director Slams ‘Black Lives Matter,’ Obama and Sentencing Reform

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The established media excluded the most dramatic moments in the Oct. 23 speech by FBI chief James Comey, likely because his remarkably political speech contradicts the anti-cop, anti-enforcement strategy now being pushed by President Barack Obama before the 2016 election.

Comey is expected to give another speech on the subject today, to 10,000 cops.

On the 23ed, the FBI director hit the push by progressive Democrats and by progressive Republicans — such as Rep. Paul Ryan — to reduce prison time for supposedly “non-violent” offenders.

He slammed the “Black Lives Movement” which is now trying to reduce policing in crime-ridden black neighborhoods.

He pushed back against critics who complain that Africans-Americans are more likely to be locked up than are whites.

He reminded Obama – who appointed him to the FBI office in 2013 — and the anti-police groups that enforcement benefits poor Americans, especially African-Americans.

He declared that crime rates are rising again, just as Obama and his progressives stigmatize and regulate state and local police forces.

He pointedly said that media-magnified criticism of police is allowing crime to rise — and hinted that some blame should be given to Obama because of his top-priority effort to put state and local police under the control of federal progressives, via his emerging ObamaLaw plans, first outlined in March.

Those plans build on the anger in the African-American community following the deaths of young black law-breakers – the August 2014 death of including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo, and the February 2012 death of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla. After each of those deaths, and prior to the elections in 2012 and 2014, Obama sent his deputies and his media allies to the area, sharply raising the visibility of these otherwise obscure deaths.

Judging by Comey’s speech — which included almost no boiler-plate compliments of Obama or other leaders in the federal government — the FBI director strongly disagrees with Obama’s policy of spurring anger to win his federal ObamaLaw plan. In fact, Comey only mentioned Obama once, saying “it is good that we have heard from President Obama, and from the Attorney General on this issue” of rising crime.

Comey also signaled his disagreement with the bipartisan plan to reduce mandatory-minimum sentences that stopped the huge crime increases in the 196os, 1970s and 1980s. That plan — which would likely release many thousands of violent criminals — was approved last week by the Senate’s judiciary committee. If GOP leaders — including Sen. Mitch McConnell and likely House Speaker Rep. Paul Ryan — don’t block the bill, Democrats will be able to blame the GOP for the current crime-explosion when voters can their ballots in November 2016.

Comey is likely to repeat his views Monday, Oct. 26, at a speech to a national audience of 10,000 police leaders. Those speeches will sharply increase the chance that rising crime will be a big issue in the 2016 election.


“It’s great to be back at the place I called home for three years,” he told his listeners at the University of Chicago’s law school

“I graduated in 1985, which may seem like the 1800s to you, but to me it does feel like yesterday… In 1985, as I was getting ready to leave Chicago, we all started to see ominous changes in the neighborhood that weren’t good.

It was when crack cocaine began to spread like cancer, in Chicago and across America. Kids were shooting kids in turf battles over the sale of cocaine, innocent people were caught in the crossfire, and violent crime and homicide rates began to rise dramatically.

It was the beginning of a period during which American cities—and minority neighborhoods in particular—experienced historic and horrific levels of violent crime… Now, all these years later, I fear we are facing another wave of violent crime and homicide, and our communities are once again in trouble. And the trouble is complicated, layered, and painful…

Here in Chicago, just last month, more than 50 people were shot in just one weekend. The next weekend, the numbers rose even higher. An 11-month-old boy was shot in the hip. His mother and grandmother were shot and killed right next to him. In cities across the country, we are seeing an explosion of senseless violence.

These people aren’t just numbers or blips on a screen. They are parents and children and friends. They are young people who could have done more with their lives….

Let me start by telling you a little bit about my time as a prosecutor. After leaving this great place, I worked in the late 1980s and 1990s as a prosecutor… Many in law enforcement in New York City—where I worked then—believed we were destined to have a structural level of violence of more than 2,000 murders each year. Two thousand was simply the baseline level of violence that we had to accept. The job of law enforcement was to try to push the carnage down toward 2,000. That was so wrong. Last year, 328 people were murdered in New York. That is still 328 too many, but it is a number that was unimaginable 25 years ago.

Against ‘Black Lives Matter’

When I worked as a prosecutor in Richmond, Virginia, in the 1990s, that city, like so much of America, was experiencing horrific levels of violent crime. But to describe it that way obscures an important truth: for the most part, white people weren’t dying; black people were dying.

Most white people could drive around the problem. If you were white and not involved in the drug trade as a buyer or a seller, you were largely apart from the violence. You could escape it.

But if you were black and poor, it didn’t matter whether you were a player in the drug trade or not, because violent crime dominated your life, your neighborhood, your world. There was no way to drive around the violence that came with the drug trade and the drug trade was everywhere in your neighborhood. And that meant the violence was everywhere.

The notion of a “non-violent” drug gang member would have elicited a tired laugh from a resident of Richmond’s worst neighborhoods. Because the entire trade was a plague of violence that strangled Richmond’s black neighborhoods. The lookouts, runners, mill-workers, enforcers, and dealers were all cut from the same suffocating cloth. Whether they pulled the trigger or not, those folks were killing the community.

Like so many in law enforcement in the 1980s and 1990s, we worked hard to try to save lives in those Richmond neighborhoods—in those black neighborhoods—by rooting out the drug dealers, the predators, the gang bangers, the killers. Of course, we also worked “up the chain” to lock up big-time dealers all the way to Colombia.

But we felt a tremendous urgency to try to save lives in the poor neighborhoods of Richmond.

We worked in part through a program called “Weed and Seed.” We worked hard to weed those neighborhoods by removing those who were strangling it, so that seeds could be planted to allow good things to grow and to fill that space.

The dream was that, someday, maybe kids could play in the parks and old folks could sit on the porch and watch those kids play.

As we did that work, I remember being asked why we were doing so much prosecuting in black neighborhoods and locking up so many black men. After all, Richmond was surrounded by areas with largely white populations. Surely there were drug dealers in the suburbs.

My answer was simple: We are there in those neighborhoods because that’s where people are dying. These are the guys we lock up because they are the predators choking off the life of a community.

We did this work because we believed that all lives matter, especially the most vulnerable.

But the people asking those questions were not the black ministers or community leaders in the poorest neighborhoods. Those good people in those bad neighborhoods already knew why we were there locking up felons with guns and drug addicts with guns.

They supported it because they, too, dreamed of a future of freedom and life for their neighborhoods. Those leaders and ministers were the seeders, who hoped to grow something in the safe space created by our weeding—something that would be healthy and that would last.

African-American Crime Rates

In 2014, grandparents—especially in minority neighborhoods—could sit on the porch, watch the kids play, and remember the bad old days when the gang bangers and drug dealers ruled the roost. They remember what it was like, even if so many Americans can’t, because so many Americans were lucky enough not to have experienced it.

To achieve a historically peaceful America—especially in the hardest hit neighborhoods—a whole lot of young men went to jail, especially men of color.

Folks can debate—and should debate—causes of the decline in crime, but surely serious people can agree law enforcement contributed significantly to saving neighborhoods and lives by the thousands. The work of law enforcement helped get us to 2014, a place most people, especially law enforcement, thought impossible.

Reasonable people can also disagree about whether sentences were too long. And I think there is some really good work going on right now in law enforcement, at the prosecutorial and judicial levels, and all the way up to Capitol Hill, to address federal sentences, to be more just, and that’s good to do. There is no doubt that unaddressed drug addiction was a root problem of many who were locked up for property crimes or other non-violent offenses. But we should debate sentencing reform with a fair and honest understanding of history and avoid language that distorts reality.

Nobody “disappeared” from Richmond or New York or Detroit or L.A. in the 1980s and 1990s. Instead, case by case, bad guys were arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. They didn’t “disappear”; they were removed from their neighborhoods to state and federal prisons, where they received the protections of the Constitution and where family and friends could visit them.

There is no doubt that each of those convictions and jail terms was in some sense a tragedy. There is no doubt that the pain and impact for families left behind was enormous and lasting. There is no doubt that many were left feeling they were forced to choose safety over justice. But each time a predator or drug dealer was moved from the street to prison, that neighborhood got a little better…

Benefits of Law Enforcement

And we must stare hard at reality if we are to make good decisions.

That work added up to a very large number of people in jail, especially young men of color. But, then, there were a very large number of young men of color involved in criminal activity in America’s cities and in America’s most desperate neighborhoods.

Each arrest and each prosecution represented a failure on multiple levels of society, and there are many reasons for those failures, stretching back many, many years—frankly, all the way back to the beginning of this country and even before that.

But the pulling of those many weeds, as painful as that was, allowed churches, schools, community groups, and parents to plant seeds that have grown into healthy neighborhoods. Neighborhoods that are free and alive in 2014 in ways that were unimaginable 25 years ago.

We cannot lose sight of that.

A problem we face today is that nobody speaks for those who have not been victimized by crime in recent years because those “victims” don’t exist. There are tens of thousands of people who were not murdered or raped or robbed or intimidated because crime dropped in our country. The victims don’t exist, so they can’t form a constituency, they can’t talk to the press, they can’t talk to Congress.

There are millions of people—people of color—who in 2014 enjoyed their lives and their neighborhoods in ways that were impossible in 1990. They were not trapped in their homes, putting their children to sleep in bathtubs to keep them safe from stray bullets, so they are not here to participate in this important discussion.

They were out living.

Somehow we need to imagine their voices in the current debate about justice in this country as we strive to make ourselves more just.

Rising Violent Crime Rates

Part of being clear-eyed about reality requires all of us to stare—and stare hard—at what is happening in this country this year. And to ask ourselves what’s going on. Because something deeply disturbing is happening all across America.

I have spoken of 2014 in this speech because something has changed in 2015. Far more people are being killed in America’s cities this year than in many years. And let’s be clear: far more people of color are being killed in America’s cities this year. And it’s not the cops doing the killing.

We are right to focus on violent encounters between law enforcement and civilians. Those incidents can teach all of us to be better. But something much bigger is happening.

Most of America’s 50 largest cities have seen an increase in homicides and shootings this year, and many of them have seen a huge increase. These are cities with little in common except being American cities—places like Chicago, Tampa, Minneapolis, Sacramento, Orlando, Cleveland, and Dallas.

In Washington, D.C., we’ve seen an increase in homicides of more than 20 percent in neighborhoods across the city. Baltimore, a city of 600,000 souls, is averaging more than one homicide a day—a rate higher than that of New York City, which has 13 times the people. Milwaukee’s murder rate has nearly doubled over the past year.

Blaming Obama and progressives for the crime spike

What could be driving an increase in murder in some cities across all regions of the country, all at the same time? What explains this map and this calendar? Why is it happening in all of different places, all over and all of a sudden?

I’ve been part of a lot of thoughtful conversations with law enforcement, elected officials, academics, and community members in recent weeks. I’ve heard a lot of theories—reasonable theories.

Maybe it’s the return of violent offenders after serving jail terms. Maybe it’s cheap heroin or synthetic drugs. Maybe after we busted up the large gangs, smaller groups are now fighting for turf. Maybe it’s a change in the justice system’s approach to bail or charging or sentencing. Maybe something has changed with respect to the availability of guns.

These are all useful suggestions, but to my mind none of them explain both the map and the calendar in disparate cities over the last 10 months.

But I’ve also heard another explanation, in conversations all over the country. Nobody says it on the record, nobody says it in public, but police and elected officials are quietly saying it to themselves. And they’re saying it to me, and I’m going to say it to you. And it is the one explanation that does explain the calendar and the map and that makes the most sense to me. Maybe something in policing has changed.

In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime? Are officers answering 911 calls but avoiding the informal contact that keeps bad guys from standing around, especially with guns?

I spoke to officers privately in one big city precinct who described being surrounded by young people with mobile phone cameras held high, taunting them the moment they get out of their cars. They told me, “We feel like we’re under siege and we don’t feel much like getting out of our cars.”

I’ve been told about a senior police leader who urged his force to remember that their political leadership has no tolerance for a viral video.

So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country… I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.”


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