In a rare move by a top Justice Department official, FBI Director James Comey on Thursday addressed the tenuous relationship between law enforcement and many African Americans, acknowledging "hard truths" about the current state of race relations and policing. Comey, during a speech at Georgetown University, drew largely on the lessons of Ferguson, Missouri, saying that police must come to terms with a longstanding culture of racial bias.
"[S]omething happens to people in law enforcement. Many of us develop different flavors of cynicism that we work hard to resist because they can be 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. 'Likewise, police officers on patrol in our nation's cities often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color. Something happens to people of good will working in that environment. After years of police work, officers often can't help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel. "A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights. The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two young white men on the other side of the street -- even in the same clothes -- do not. The officer does not make the same association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black. And that drives different behavior. The officer turns toward one side of the street and not the other. We need to come to grips with the fact that this behavior complicates the relationship between police and the communities they serve."