Are police officers racist? Depending on who you ask, you will get very different answers. But now the FBI has weighed in, and the answer they gave may surprise a lot of people.
In an unusually blunt admission, FBI Director James B. Comey addressed what he called the “hard truths” about policing.
He openly acknowledged the racial bias that exists among police officers across the nation.
Director Comey said, with serious dismay, that there is a “disconnect” between police and non-white communities.
“We are at a crossroads,” Comey explained.
“As a society, we can choose to live our lives every day, raising our families, going to work and hoping someone, somewhere will do something to ease the tension, to smooth over the conflict… Or we can choose instead to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today.”
Comey was addressing students at Georgetown University. His words might not have made waves if they had come out of anyone else’s mouth. But they were remarkably honest, coming from the director of the FBI.
Comey added that law enforcement officers
“often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color.”
“Something happens to people of goodwill working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.”
He further noted that whether an officer is “white or black,” they have a different reaction to two young African American men on street than they do to two white men.
Why? Comey said it is because the African Americans on the street “look like so many others the officer has locked up.”
He further cited the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” which coems from the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” – a song which suggests that everyone makes racial judgments. Comey says it would be ridiculous to believe that police officers do not.
“Look around and you will find,” Comey quoting, “no one’s really colorblind.”
“Much of our history is not pretty,” Comey added.
“At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.”
Comey explained that police officers must learn from this “inheritance.”
“Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face,” Comey continued.
“We simply must find a way to see each other more clearly… It is hard to hate up close.”
The complete text from Director Comey’s speech can be found at the FBI website.
Watch the video excerpt via the Washington Post below: