The FBI denies any epidemic of racism among American law enforcement, but admits to cynicism and unconscious bias by the nation’s cops.
FBI Director James Comey made the remarks Thursday at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, at a discussion about “the relationship between law enforcement and the diverse communities we serve.”
Singling out the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York — as well as the December 2014 murder of two NYPD officers amid growing anti-cop sentiment — Comey said the rift between minority communities and officers of the law cannot be ignored any longer.
“We can drive around these problems,” he said. “Or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today.”
Comey, though, also blamed “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.”
He quoted “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” quipping, “You should be grateful I did not sing that.”
Defending police, Comey denied endemic racial bias in law enforcement officers, insisting the corps is comprised of well-intentioned “people who risk their lives because they want to help other people.”
Cynicism in the force is real, he admitted, manifest in “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.”
This week’s remarks by Comey — a white member of the Republican Party nominated to head the FBI by Pres. Obama — come on the heels of similar discussions of race and policing by Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, who are both black.
A wave of protests have hit the US in recent months following the deaths of Brown and Garner last July and August, respectively, and similar incidents that have unfolded since concerning the use of excessive force by law enforcement officials on black suspects.