FBI director James Comey gave an unusually candid talk yesterday about the difficult relationship between the police and African Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race, says the New York Times. Citing the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway show “Avenue Q,” he said officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. Speaking at Georgetown University, Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.
Comey’s remarks went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said since Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August. Comey said his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the U.S. had not “had a healthy dialogue” since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not “want to see those important issues drift away.” Comey said significant research shows that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.” “Although the research may be unsettling, what we do next is what matters most,” Comey said.