Thursday, February 12, 2015

FBI Director James Comey Speaks Out Against Bad Policing and Racism

In a speech at Georgetown University  FBI director, James Comey, called for a renewed conversation on community policing and for police to reevaluate how they view young Black men they encounter on the street.
Directly invoking killings of unarmed black men in New York and Missouri as well as two police officers in an address at Georgetown University, in Washington DC, Comey said Americans must accept that racism is the country’s “cultural inheritance” and that police officers must “get out of their cars” to overcome deep mistrust.
Comey’s remarks marked the first time an FBI director, or the head of any top law enforcement has spoken out on race and policing so bluntly. His office was long held by J Edgar Hoover, who wiretapped Martin Luther King Jr, and Comey said he keeps attorney general Robert Kennedy’s approval of the wiretap order on his desk as a reminder of the agency’s mistakes. Law-enforcement experts welcomed the frank talk after criticism of President Barack Obama’s tempered remarks following the shooting of Michael Brown last August in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods,” he said.

He’s right.

Those community issues, Comey said, “will not be solved by body cameras” – a reference to nationwide endorsement for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras to record police interactions with the citizens they are sworn to protect.
He right again - body cameras will only curb bad actions by individual officers - they won’t erase the biased attitudes and rampant disregard for humanity.

Comey didn’t pull back on the current state of minorities in poor neighborhoods.

“But another truth is that minorities in poor neighborhoods too often inherit a "legacy of crime and prison," a cycle he said must be broken to improve race relations with police.”

Sounds like there is a civil rights activist in the man trying to get out.

“The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others that officer has locked up. Two white men on the other side of the street, even in the same clothes, do not,” Comey said. “The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys – whether the officer is white or black – and that drives behavior.” - FBI Director James Comey

While Comey admits there needs to be better federal data collection on police use of force and officer-involved shootings he offered few specific policy changes on the systemic issues that have become the stuff of task forces and investigations from his bosses. The FBI’s “justifiable homicides” database is considered the best measure of cop killings in the US, but even the attorney general, Eric Holder, called the lack of comprehensive numbers “unacceptable” last month.

Yes even they don’t know how many folks have been shot by the nation’s law enforcement agencies and in this age of elementary data collection that alone is unacceptable.

Comey gets high marks for breaching the barriers of political correctness that so many leaders are afraid to cross when it comes to race, bigotry, and the American Criminal Justice System.

If Comey is passionate about the ills of policing and racism in this country he is in the position to initiate change in the law enforcement context. Change does start at the top. He should initiate a reform of attitudes and changes within his own organization. That could spark mirrored reactions in law enforcement agencies across the country.

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