FBI Director James Comey is scheduled to speak at Georgetown University this morning about recent violent incidents involving police officers in minority communities.
In a speech entitled "Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race," Comey plans to highlight research suggesting a bias against blacks among majority white communities — a bias that he says goes largely unaddressed and leads to dangerous practices among law enforcement officials. NPR's justice correspondent Carrie Johnson says Comey wants law enforcement to acknowledge that bias in order to improve relations with minority communities.
"He's going to say people who serve in law enforcement have to be honest and acknowledge most of our history has been unfair to minorities and un-favored groups."
Johnson reports Comey's leading by example in his new post as director. He requires new police recruits to visit the new memorial of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Washington, D.C., as a reminder that the FBI once specifically targeted the civil rights leader.
In the flurry of national news stories involving police officers and violence, President Obama sent Comey to speak at the funeral of slain NYPD detective Wenjian Lui in January. Lui and his partner, Rafael Ramos, were shot and killed while sitting in their police vehicle in December. The killings came amid nationwide protests after grand juries declined to charge police officers in the deaths of Eric Garner in Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Comey attended a tense funeral, with some officers turning their backs on New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio because they felt he hadn't supported them. Comey addressed the crowd on behalf of the Obama administration.
"Nothing we do will ever make this unspeakable loss somehow worth it, but we must honor this good man by working every day to better protect those who protect us. Like Detective Liu, the men and women of law enforcement accept the demands and dangers of their work, because they see it as a calling. They signed up for this because they want to protect innocent people. They want to rescue children, save neighborhoods, and make life better for ordinary folks. That's why they do this. That's why they risk their lives, because they know that we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. They have chosen to make the right kind of lives, by securing life for all of us. And so they place themselves in harm's way, again and again."
The New York Times reported Comey's interest in race relations stretches back to his college years.
"As a student at the College of William and Mary, Mr. Comey was a co-author of a 1980 editorial in the school's newspaper that took the college to task for its lack of efforts to foster diversity. He said that the college had set aside millions of dollars to improve its athletics programs, but that it had not dedicated nearly as much money to its recruiting budget for members of minority groups.
"'So, if the college wants to enroll more black students, what is the holdup?' the editorial said. 'Is the college unable to provide the resources necessary for an effective recruiting program? Unable, no. Unwilling, yes.'
"It added: 'We think that a lack of commitment is the problem. The college, it seems, is only committed to staying out of the courtroom. We wish we attended a college committed to its social responsibilities.'"