A Call to Action: F.B.I Director James Comey’s Speech on “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race”
This Thursday, the F.B.I. Director James B. Comey addressed members of the Georgetown community regarding the crossroads of law enforcement and race. His candid words demanded a need for systemic change to reverse the cycle of racial profiling and subconscious biases.
Comey began his speech by lauding the law enforcement officers that work with compassion and immense bravery each day to protect the nation. “I believe law enforcement overwhelmingly attracts people who want to do good for a living—people who risk their lives because they want to help other people,” Comey said.
To begin, he frankly and openly addressed the need for honest discussion about the root of racial profiling and inequality and the relations between communities and law enforcement. He questioned whether by avoiding the root of these complex issues and instead focusing on the individual officers—as has been done in the recent and tragic deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, or of Eric Garner in Staten Island—we were using excuses instead of addressing a need for change.
Comey said that even though officers must be hired responsibly and with great scrutiny, the issue delves deeper than the individuals hired within law enforcement. “It [focusing on individuals] has become an excuse, at times, to avoid doing something harder.”
He also addressed systemic inequality in impoverished communities that perpetuates this cycle of crime and therefore, inherent racial profiling.
“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 a legacy of crime and prison,” Comey said.
He alluded to historical shortcomings of equality various times throughout his speech by referencing the F.B.I’s unjustified wire tapping of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. under the Hoover administration, settling upon the point that we must remember our mistakes and learn from them. He also referred to data which points toward our subconscious biases; for this reason, we work to design systems and processes that can overcome racial bias.
Comey appealed to the most basic human emotions and the need for law enforcement to truly understand the people it serves. After (surprisingly) quoting the following lyrics from 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.”
He followed up with a casual, self-deprecating comment: “You should be grateful I did not try to sing that.” This unexpectedly caused Vox to laugh about the fact that such a powerful, serious person had just made such a light comment about his inability to sing in this heavy speech.
His speech concluded with a wholehearted appeal for justice and a need to see each other clearly. Comey moved the audience and frankly addressed the complex dynamic between race and law enforcement. Vox was extremely impressed by the honesty that rang true in the speech of this brilliant man whose mind contains so much classified information about our nation.
At the very end, he left the audience with an important call to action: “Relationships are hard. Relationships require work. So let’s begin that work.”
Photo: Margaret Crownover/The Georgetown Voice