FBI — Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race

The New York Times story about the director of the FBI’s speech about law enforcement began:

The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, on Thursday delivered an unusually frank speech about the relationship between the police and black people, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at higher rates develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.

He said that officers — whether they are white or any other race — who are confronted with white men on one side of the street and black men on the other do not view them the same way. The officers develop a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because of the number of black suspects they have arrested.

“We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve,” Mr. Comey said in the speech, at Georgetown University.

While officers should be closely scrutinized, he said, they are “not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods,” where blacks grow up “in environments lacking role models, adequate education and decent employment.”

“They lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted,” Mr. Comey said.

Mr. Comey’s speech was unprecedented for an F.B.I. director. Previous directors have limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like those of murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and how the bureau wiretapped the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.


People will listen because of who Mr. Comey is, but we need more people to speak up. The relationship between judges and people of color is also very important – and there are hard truths to be said about that as well

Lack of role models, adequate education and decent employment affect how judges make decisions about bail and sentencing every day. There may well be no panacea for judges to make this a better world, but remembering that the people who appear before us all too often “lack all sorts of opportunities that most of us take for granted” is a decent place to start.

A copy of Mr. Cormey’s remarks can be found here.

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