This past Thursday, James Comey, the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in a speech at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, addressed, with what I consider stunning candor, the issue of community policing and race relations. Among his remarks: “I worry that this incredibly important and difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law enforcement officers…Debating the nature of policing is very important, but I worry that it has become an excuse at times to avoid doing something harder.”
Doubtless by necessity (for sometimes the obvious must be reiterated), Comey cited the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, in August and on Staten Island in July, respectively, and the December ambush shooting deaths of New York City police officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos. By this, he highlighted a tragically turbulent year for minority communities and law enforcement.
Then he spoke openly and honestly, compellingly and critically of the prejudices present in how minorities perceive they are viewed by the police and in how police view minorities.
Others have addressed these concerns. Among them, President Obama, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, and New York City mayor William De Blasio; although critics have charged each of them as favoring minority groups over support for law officers. Reflecting on the even-handed balance of Comey’s commentary, given who he is and the stature of his office, I pray that our national conversation about race and the law will bear soon to blossom fruit of deeper, mutual understanding.