Thursday, February 12, 2015

FBI director Comey: 'law enforcement is not the root cause' of police and race problems. Comey also called for an overhaul of the “ridiculous” way the FBI and police collect and share information, saying “data seems like a dry and boring word” but without it law enforcement cannot understand the reasons behind arrests, shootings and deaths. The director tried to strike a middle ground between critics of the police and law enforcement, saying “I am not willing to let law enforcement off the hook” and also that police are “overwhelmingly doing the right thing and making the right choices.” - The Guardian



FBI Dir.: US at 'Crossroads' on Race Relations - AP


Published on Feb 12, 2015
FBI Director James Comey says the country is at a crossroads on matters of race relations and law enforcement. (Feb. 11)


FBI director Comey: 'law enforcement is not the root cause' of police and race problems – as it happened - The Guardian

James Comey speech is first time sitting director has broached race relations and community policing
Remarks invoke deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and NYPD officers
Defends police while calling for reform
‘A host of problems will not be solved by body cameras’

We’re going to wrap coverage of FBI director James Comey’s speech on race and policing with a summary of its key points below.

Comey defended police, saying “law enforcement is not the root cause,” of the problems of racism and inequality that pervade the US.

He argued that all Americans – including police, minority communities and especially the majority of white Americans – must not “roll up their windows, turn up the radio and drive around these problems.”

The FBI director urged police to “get out of their cars, both literally and figuratively,” and build stronger relationships with people in the communities they patrol. He called for greater empathy for both minority communities and police officers, saying “it’s hard to hate close up.”

Comey also called for an overhaul of the “ridiculous” way the FBI and police collect and share information, saying “data seems like a dry and boring word” but without it law enforcement cannot understand the reasons behind arrests, shootings and deaths.

He argued in favor of better training of police in both militarized equipment and overcoming “unconscious biases” toward other races. About the equipment, he said “it’s not about the stuff,” but conceded that some departments lacked training and discipline.

The director tried to strike a middle ground between critics of the police and law enforcement, saying “I am not willing to let law enforcement off the hook” and also that police are “overwhelmingly doing the right thing and making the right choices.”


FBI director James Comey on race – full text: 
'America isn’t easy. America takes work'

The director of the FBI spoke at Georgetown University about the often dysfunctional relationship between law enforcement and people of color. Here’s the full text of his speech

Thursday 12 February 2015 12.24 EST

Thank you for inviting me to Georgetown University. I am honored to be here. I wanted to meet with you today to share my thoughts on the relationship between law enforcement and the diverse communities we serve. Like a lot of things in life, that relationship is complicated. Relationships often are.

Beautiful Healy Hall—part of this building—was named after this great university’s 29th President—Patrick Francis Healy. Healy was born into slavery, in Georgia, in 1834. His father was an Irish immigrant plantation owner and his mother, a slave. Under the laws of that time, Healy and his siblings were considered to be slaves. Healy is believed to be the first African-American to earn a Ph.D., the first to enter the Jesuit order, and the first to be president of Georgetown University or any predominantly white college.

Given Georgetown’s remarkable history, and that of President Healy, this struck me as an appropriate place to talk about the difficult relationship between law enforcement and the communities we are sworn to serve and protect.

With the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, the ongoing protests throughout the country, and the assassinations of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, we are at a crossroads. As a society, we can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension—to smooth over the conflict. We can turn up the music on the car radio and drive around these problems.

Or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today—what it should be, what it could be, and what it needs to be—if we took more time to better understand one another.

Current Issues Facing Law Enforcement

Unfortunately, in places like Ferguson and New York City, and in some communities across the nation, there is a disconnect between police agencies and many citizens—predominantly in communities of color.

Serious debates are taking place about how law enforcement personnel relate to the communities they serve, about the appropriate use of force, and about real and perceived biases, both within and outside of law enforcement. These are important debates, and every American is free to express an informed opinion—to protest peacefully, to convey frustration and even anger in a constructive way. That’s what makes our democracy great. Those conversations—as bumpy and uncomfortable as they can be—help us understand different perspectives and better serve our communities. Of course, these are only conversations in the true sense of the word if we are willing not only to talk but to listen, too.

I worry that this important and incredibly 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 a very important thing, but I worry that it has become an excuse to avoid doing something harder.

The Hard Truths

Let me start by sharing some of my own hard truths:

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. It was unfair to the Healy siblings and to countless others like them. It was unfair to too many people.

I am descended from Irish immigrants. A century ago, the Irish knew well how American society—and the police—viewed them: as drunks, ruffians, and criminals. Law enforcement’s biased view of the Irish lives on in the nickname we still use for the vehicle that transports groups of prisoners; it is, after all, the “paddy wagon.”

The Irish had tough times, but little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans. That experience should be part of every American’s consciousness, and law enforcement’s role in that experience—including in recent times—must be remembered. It is our cultural inheritance.

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.

One reason we cannot forget our law enforcement legacy is that the people we serve cannot forget it, either. So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on.

A second hard truth: 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.

You should be grateful I did not sing that.

But if we can’t help our latent biases, we can help our behavior in response to those instinctive reactions, which is why we work to design systems and processes that overcome that very human part of us all. Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most.

But racial bias isn’t epidemic in those who join law enforcement any more than it is epidemic in academia or the arts. In fact, 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. They 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.

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 sinister 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.

So why has that officer—like his colleagues—locked up so many young men of color? Why does he have that life-shaping experience? Because he is a racist? Why are so many black men in jail? Is it because cops, prosecutors, judges, and juries are racist? Because they are turning a blind eye to white robbers and drug dealers?

The answer is a fourth hard truth: I don’t think so. If it were so, that would be easier to address. We would just need to change the way we hire, train, and measure law enforcement and that would fix it. We would then go get those white thugs we have been ignoring. But the truth is significantly harder than that.

The truth is that what really needs fixing is something only a few, like President Obama, are willing to speak about, perhaps because it is so daunting a task. Through the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the President is addressing the disproportionate challenges faced by young men of color. For instance, data shows that the percentage of young men not working or not enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites. This initiative, and others like it, is about doing the hard work to develop violence-resistant and drug-resistant kids, especially in communities of color, so they never become part of that officer’s life experience.

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. 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.

Let me be transparent about my affection for cops. When you dial 911, whether you are white or black, the cops come, and they come quickly, and they come quickly whether they are white or black. That’s what cops do, in addition to all of the other hard and difficult and dangerous and frightening things that they do. They respond to homes in the middle of the night where a drunken father, wielding a gun, is threatening his wife and children. They pound up the back stairs of an apartment building, not knowing if the guys behind the door they are about to enter are armed, or high, or both.

I come from a law enforcement family. My grandfather, William J. Comey, was a police officer. Pop Comey is one of my heroes. I have a picture of him on my wall at the FBI, reminding me of the legacy I’ve inherited and must honor.

Pop was the child of immigrants. When he was in the sixth grade, his father was killed in an industrial accident in New York. Because he was the oldest, he dropped out of school so that he could go to work to support his mom and younger siblings. He could never afford to return to school, but when he was old enough, he joined the Yonkers (New York) Police Department.

Over the next 40 years, he rose to lead that department. Pop was the tall, strong, silent type, quiet and dignified, and passionate about the rule of law. Back during Prohibition, he had heard that bootleggers were running beer through fire hoses between Yonkers and the Bronx.

Now, Pop enjoyed a good beer every now and again, but he ordered his men to cut those hoses with fire axes. Pop had to have a protective detail, because certain people were angry and shocked that someone in law enforcement would do that. But that’s what we want as citizens—that’s what we should expect. And so I keep that picture of Pop on my office wall to remind me of his integrity, and his pride in the integrity of his work.

Law enforcement ranks are filled with people like my grandfather. But, to be clear, although I am from a law enforcement family, and have spent much of my professional life in law enforcement, I’m not looking to let law enforcement off the hook. Those of us in law enforcement must re-double our efforts to resist bias and prejudice. 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.

We must work—in the words of New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton—to really see each other. Perhaps the reason we struggle as a nation is because we’ve come to see only what we represent, at face value, instead of who we are. We simply must see the people we serve.

But 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.

One of the hardest things I do as FBI Director is call the chiefs and sheriffs in departments around the nation of officers killed in the line of duty to express my sorrow and offer the FBI’s help. Officers like Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, two of NYPD’s finest who were gunned down by a madman who thought his ambush would avenge the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I make far too many calls. And, there are far too many names of fallen officers inscribed on the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial and far too many more names being added each year.

Officers Liu and Ramos swore the same oath all in law enforcement do, and they answered the call to serve the people, all people. Like all good police officers, they moved toward danger, without regard for the politics or passions or race of those who needed their help—knowing the risks inherent in their work. They were minority police officers, killed while standing watch in a minority neighborhood—Bedford-Stuyvesant—one they and their fellow officers had rescued from the grip of violent crime.

Twenty years ago, Bed-Stuy was shorthand for a kind of chaos and disorder in which good people had no freedom to walk, shop, play, or just sit on the front steps and talk. It was too dangerous. But today, no more, thanks to the work of those who chose lives of service and danger to help others.

Yet despite this selfless service—of these two officers and countless others like them across the country—in some American communities, people view the police not as allies, but as antagonists, and think of them not with respect or gratitude, but with suspicion and distrust.

We simply must find ways to see each other more clearly. And part of that must involve collecting and sharing better information about encounters between police and citizens, especially violent encounters.

Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African-American. They couldn’t, and it wasn’t their fault. Demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is not consistently reported to us through our Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable.

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.” He’s right.

The first step to understanding what is really going on in our communities is to gather more and better data related to those we arrest, those we confront for breaking the law and jeopardizing public safety, and those who confront us. “Data” seems a dry and boring word but, without it, we cannot understand our world and make it better.

How can we address concerns about “use of force” policies and officer-involved shootings if we do not have a firm grasp on the demographics and circumstances of such incidents? We simply must improve the way we collect and analyze data to see the true nature of what’s happening in all of our communities.

The FBI tracks and publishes the number of “justifiable homicides” by police officers. But, again, reporting by police departments across the country is voluntary and not all departments participate. That means we cannot fully track the number of incidents in which force is used by police, or against police, including non-fatal encounters, which are not tracked at all.

Without complete and accurate data, we are left with “ideological thunderbolts” that spark unrest and distrust. That does not help us get better. Because we must get better, 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.

* * *

America isn’t easy. America takes work. Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. He spoke at Gettysburg about a “new birth of freedom” because we spent the first four score and seven years of our history with fellow Americans held as slaves—President Healy, his siblings, and his mother among them. We have spent the 150 years since Lincoln spoke making great progress, but along the way treating a whole lot of people of color poorly. And law enforcement was often part of that poor treatment. That’s our inheritance as law enforcement and it is not all in the distant past.

We must account for that inheritance. And we—especially those of us who enjoy the privilege that comes with being the majority—must confront the biases that are inescapable parts of the human condition. We must speak the truth about our shortcomings as law enforcement, and fight to be better. But as a country, we must also speak the truth to ourselves. Law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest hit neighborhoods. Police officers—people of enormous courage and integrity, in the main—are in those neighborhoods, risking their lives, to protect folks from offenders who are the product of problems that will not be solved by body cameras.

We simply must speak to each other honestly about these hard truths.

In the words of Dr. King, “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

We all have work to do—hard work, challenging work—and it will take time. 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. So let’s begin. It is time to start seeing one another for who and what we really are. Peace, security, and understanding are worth the effort.


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