In the aftermath of ongoing protests over police-involved shootings of unarmed Black men, the FBI director waded deep into the debate Thursday, urging law enforcement to examine its strained relationship with communities of color.
In the most “significant remarks ever made by an FBI director about race and law enforcement,” Politico reports that James B. Comey called for an “open and honest discussion” between law enforcement and communities of color. He made the statement during at speech to a capacity crowd at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, the news site writes:
His speech, he said, was an attempt to refocus the national debate towards the broader changes needed to change law enforcement’s relationship with [people of color]. The problems in places like Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York weren’t solely about issues like the militarization of police, it wasn’t about what he called “the stuff,” the armored cars, sniper rifles, and body armor that he said was an unfortunate necessity in American policing. It was instead, he said, about the mindsets of the police and the communities they serve.
“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 short-cuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency,” he said.
He also defended police work.
“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,” he said. “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.”
The speech is part of series of efforts by the federal government to improve the relationship between police and communities of color. Politico writes:
Among other important next steps, which included his endorsement of President Barack Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, he called for better data collection to help “to see the true nature of what’s happening in all of our communities.”
The speech follows nationwide protests that arose after widespread allegations of police violence against unarmed Blacks by White officers, including the deaths last summer of Michael Brown, 18, in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City’s Staten Island neighborhood.