FBI Director James Comey talks confronts racism in policing

In a monumentally important speech at Georgetown University on Friday, FBI Director James Comey spoke about the hard truths of racism as it affects policing. He said,

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. In fact, we all, white and black, carry various biases around with us. I am reminded of the song from the Broadway hit, Avenue Q: “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” Part of it goes like this:

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 try to 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, it is what we do next that matters most.

Comey’s speech is long overdue, given the emerging trend of innocent black men and boys dying after calls to 911, but at least it finally happened. For that I am grateful.

He is a man of principle and courage and he is in a position to do something that gives meaning to the words he speaks. For example, he stood up to President Bush and White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez when they attempted to convince a hospitalized Attorney General John Ashcroft to sign-off on a document approving of an unlawful NSA wiretap program. Wikipedia has the story.

In early January 2006, The New York Times, as part of its investigation into domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency, reported that Comey, who was Acting Attorney General during the March 2004 surgical hospitalization of John Ashcroft, refused to “certify” the legality of central aspects of the NSA program at that time. The certification was required under existing White House procedures to continue the program.

After Comey’s refusal, the newspaper reported, Andrew H. Card Jr., White House Chief of Staff, and Alberto R. Gonzales, then White House counsel and future Attorney General, made an emergency visit to the George Washington University Hospital to attempt to win approval directly from Ashcroft for the program. According to the 2007 memoir of Jack Goldsmith, who had been head of the Office of Legal Counsel at the time, Comey went to the hospital to give Ashcroft support to withstand the pressure from the White House.

Comey confirmed these events took place (but declined to confirm the specific program) in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on 16 May 2007. FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, like Comey, also supported Ashcroft’s decision; both men were prepared to resign if the White House ignored the Department of Justice’s legal conclusions on the wiretapping issue. FBI director Mueller’s notes on the March 10, 2004, incident, which were released to a House Judiciary committee, confirms that he “Saw [the] AG, John Ashcroft in the room. AG is feeble, barely articulate, clearly stressed.” Comey withdrew his threat to resign after meeting directly with President Bush, who gave his support to making changes in the surveillance program.

Only time will tell, but this is an encouraging development.

39 Responses to FBI Director James Comey talks confronts racism in policing

  1. Malisha says:

    Basically, I believe all this means that the law in this country is that if you’re Black, and you may have done something that somebody thinks may be wrong, you can be murdered with impunity. And if you’re white and either police-affiliated or government-immunized, you can just kill Black people whenever you want, and nothing will be done to you, except that our taxpayers will pay a government agency to write really serious words about you a year or so later.

    • so jaded says:

      Pretty much said it all. Has anyone seen the press conference with mayor knowles? It was pathetic. Ferguson has hired 2 black court reporters and fired one cop and put 2 on paid vacations, and that will pretty much address everything in the doj report. PATHETIC! !

  2. ay2z says:

    International news reporting developing story:

    “Ferguson police department routinely displayed racial bias investigation finds
    U.S. Justice Department report based on months-long investigation following Michael Brown shooting”

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/ferguson-police-department-routinely-displayed-racial-bias-investigation-finds-1.2980442

    • ay2z says:

      Report could be released as early as Weds.

      “Several messages seeking comment from Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson and Mayor James Knowles III were not returned. A secretary for Jackson said he is not doing media interviews.

      © The Associated Press, 2015”

      • Malisha says:

        NOW he’s not doing media interviews. He was eager to do them in the past, and the prosecutor was eager to blab about the grand jury testimony in the past — hmmm. Aren’t people unpredictable, my my my.

      • girlp says:

        He was eager to comment on the incident between Michael Brown and the store clerk/owner. The DOJ reporting that the Ferguson PD routinely discriminates againts black and brown people is like saying water is wet.

    • The specifics of the report are absolutely devastating.

      • Two sides to a story says:

        But will they do anything about the Ferguson prosecutor, the mayor, and others who have blatantly participated in all this discrimination? It seems the people who need discipline the most never get it.

      • ay2z says:

        BUT, what message does this send about the ‘front line’ contributors role?

        Update to the headline story

        “U.S. won’t prosecute Ferguson officer in Michael Brown shooting”

    • gblock says:

      Although it’s not particularly surprising that all of this was going on, it’s nice that the Justice Department is willing to call it out for once.

  3. Malisha says:

    Does anybody know — is something wrong? Is Professor Leatherman writing for the Firedog Lake Blog?

    • bettykath says:

      I’ve been wondering as well. Hope they are ok. We haven’t heard from them in awhile. I’m getting a bit worried.

      • We’re fine. We’re both writing for Firedoglake during Jane Hamsher’s hiatus from the Lake, which she owns. She is recuperating from hip surgery. We and some other writers are holding the fort. You can find us there. Meanwhile, as time permits, we cross post back here. That’s why our posts are hit and miss.

        Crane also started a new full-time job. She’s working 6 and occasionally 7 days per week.

        I started posting at the Lake years ago before the Scooter Libby trial. It was my internet home before I started our website. We have many friends there.

  4. Malisha says:

    DOJ sucks.
    Holder is a spineless lackey.
    The feds are pro-racist-murder sell-outs and anti-Democratic collaborators.

    They are not to be trusted. They are just another form of tyranny. They have thrown our whole country to the dogs.

    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/department-of-justice-no-civil-rights-charges-trayvon-martin-case/

    • Trained Observer says:

      More tax dollars wasted on empty DOJ “investigation.” …. I remain optimistic, however, that Fatboy Fogen eventually will get his just desserts.
      .

      • girlp says:

        Live by the sword die by the sword…the guy he chased down not too long ago had a gun but a level head. Georgie Porgie will meet his match one day.

        • Malisha says:

          “His Match” are the people he has met and grown up with all his life. They are the carnivores of this country’s white supremacist trashcan. What I’m waiting for is the day he meets somebody he doesn’t imagine can put “his match” down with some REAL self-defense.

          Unfortunately, OUR DOJ (and almost all the rest of our federal govt) is filled with “Fogen’s Match.”

      • bettykath says:

        DoJ has just announced that there will be no federal case against fogen. 😦 but not exactly a surprise.

  5. Malisha says:

    Here’s a reason that police officers kill unarmed civilians from the “powerless class”:

    http://thefreethoughtproject.com/officer-year-admits-raping-20-male-immigrants-charged-sex-offender/

    In our society, the class of people whom we should now start to refer to as the “powerless class,” [comprised of many women, most African Americans, nearly all the poor, all the homeless poor, many of the elderly, many immigrants, all undocumented immigrants, the incarcerated except for incarcerated ex-Republican-governors, and most of those who have been incarcerated in the past — with membership in any two of these groups significantly increasing the likelihood of powerlessness] do not enjoy 14th amendment protection of laws. Committing crimes against them is usually unprosecuted.

    Among the groups mentioned above, we would find “LGBT” exept for the fact that gay white males (alone of all the despised groups) retain the power they would have had as heterosexual white mails unless there are other factors involved, such as political activism or a family that was in one of the mentioned groups.

  6. Malisha says:

    So apparently the DOJ is going to sue the Ferguson police (one of those cute little expensive civil suits that ends with a consent decree wherein the police agree to not kill as many innocent civilians as they used to, or to lie better when they do it, and they also agree not to lock up as many people for jaywalking or imaginary bad-being) but have not done a damn thing about the corruption that led to Mike Brown’s murder.

    http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/233186-doj-may-sue-ferguson-police-for-racial-discrimination

    This is a form of “Oh we really were upset that Billy killed somebody on the playground so we have sent him to the principal’s office for sensitivity training.”

  7. Malisha says:

    A look at the Las Vegas Police DOJ report.

    http://www.lvmpd.com/Portals/0/OIO/LVMPD_Collab_Reform_Final_Report_v6-final.pdf

    Strangely, most of what it says appears to be so OBVIOUS! Yet it was apparently successful (unless the results achieved are another example of social theater).

  8. Malisha says:

    I find it amazing that people have to gentle their way into talking about racism, so as not to offend racists. You have to say things like, “everybody’s a little bit racist” so you can (a) share the blame with the thugs who have terrorized our nation for three hundred years and at the same time (b) make it possible for them to feel good enough about themselves that they can admit that possibly they’re not perfect as compared to naturally-wrong-and-perpetually-blamable “OTHERS” … it’s a packaged valentine to sweeten the medicine we must take.

    Did the Germans do this after WWII? I actually don’t know the answer to this. Did they go around saying, “Well everybody’s a tad Nazi” and “hey lighten up, anti-Semitism is only natural so long as you don’t go overboard” and shit like that? Somebody tell me. Because NOW, they’re absolutely hysterical about signs of Nazi-ism (so long as it’s being flashed by a sufficiently powerless person of course). If you put up an abstract piece of artwork on the wall of your house and it appears to have a swastika-like design in it, you can get “turned in” by folks who come to your house; there’s a definite acknowledgement by the German people in general that this form of hateful behavior HARMED THEM and HARMED THEIR COUNTRY and HARMED THE WORLD.

    Where is that, among us, in this young country, the US of A? WHy can’t we see how miserable we have made ourselves and others by not confronting and combatting a virulent deadly disease? JEEZ!

    • so jaded says:

      The fact that the confederate flags still flies high at state buildings, and proudly displays at the homes of many as a source of pride is evidence that we are not post racial. A lot of white people are waiting for the day they can take back what was taken form them (ie. Their slaves).

    • gblock says:

      But, it actually is a legitimate point, and there are psychological studies that show it. And, there is no denying that there are virulent racists who see blacks as thugs and then claim that no, they’re not racists, it’s the people calling them out on it who are racist. So yes, that’s a problem, and it matters. But it is also the case that people have these much more difficult to see biases, and that matters too, and it is necessary to become aware of it before it can be dealt with.

      • Malisha says:

        Oh I agree, because I deliberately took all those tests (those that I could find) to see if I was biased and yes, I am, so I am a believer. But I was referring to the need to “dilute” active, motivational racism (that racism that is either unacknowledged and acted upon or even denied and acted upon) by saying that after all we’re all racist. See, when I took those tests and identified my biases, I did so specifically because I wanted to confront them in myself and deal with them. I would not imagine denying them because that would make them considerably worse. I’d be defending my own worst flaws, rather than seeing the and honestly trying to ameliorate them.

        It would be the same if I discovered that I harbored an unnatural aversion to some necessary vitamin. I’d recognize it and try to get myself to overcome the problem so I could be healthier.

  9. gblock says:

    It’s good that he is acknowledging this. Acknowledging issues is the first step towards making progress in dealing with them. Now just wait for the right wing deniers to blast him for saying it!

    • He stood up to President Bush and backed him down, so he’s definitely got the right stuff to stand up to the right wing.

      I wish his political views were closer to mine, but I’ll settle for honesty, courage and the will to get it done.

  10. Malisha says:

    I heard an NPR broadcast about the Las Vegas, NV police force that had finally reacted to a study showing their cops were flagrantly killing young unarmed Black men, and they VOLUNTARILY (wow, what nice guys!) began to implement a 48-point list of “recommendations” the DOJ had come up with. Some of the recommendations were so simple you have to wonder how the hell ANYBODY would need them to be recommended. The list blew my mind. Yet they reduced the “wrongful-kill-stats” (and mind you these are “wrongful kills” within the discretion of their own investigations!) to zero within a year after getting the recommendations.

    Part of this is the simple need to HEAR THE BRASS SAY NO!

    Part of this is simply being TOLD that there must NOT be random murders of unarmed citizens. Just hearing it has an effect!

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