Friday, February 13, 2015

FBI Director — Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race

Father Joseph McShane, S.J., President  of Fordham University called on us yesterday to commit to a week of reflection on race relations.  If we take FBI Director James B. Comey's speech as a keynote we will do well. Comey - an Irish Catholic speaks of Michael Patrick Healy, S.J.  The son of a planter and a slave he was legally a slave but raised by his father who sent him and his brothers north to the College of the Holy Cross where he was the first African-American graduate.  He joined the Society of Jesus and was the 29th  President of Georgetown University.   - gwc

FBI — Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race

FBI Director James B. Comey
February 12, 2015
at Georgetown University

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 law enforcement—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 vehicles we use to transport 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 that 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. It is a single page. 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 and protect 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. 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.
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