Photo: FBI Director James Comey Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
Note: These are surprising words from the director of the FBI. We hope he puts these words into action. As reporting the race of people shot or in other ways being on the receiving end of police violence will do a great deal to curtail it.
Speaking at Georgetown University today, FBI Director James Comey said that American law enforcement officers can be racially biased and have a history of discriminating against black citizens—and asserted that the FBI needs to do a better job collecting comprehensive data on police killings and other uses of force against suspects nationwide.
Comey’s remarks acknowledged that authorities have often protected the interests of white Americans by discriminating against blacks: “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.” It’s not a controversial point, objectively, but in the hyperbolic world of post-Ferguson police/race discourse, it’s a notable one for a law enforcement official to be making in public—particularly a white official like Comey who worked at the Justice Department as John Ashcroft’s deputy during the Bush administration.
The FBI director’s comments were for the most part generalities, but he did say that his own organization needs to significantly improve the records it keeps on police shootings and uses of force. There is no comprehensive national database of information on such events, and Comey echoed critics like Slate’s Josh Voorhees in describing that failure, asking, “How can we address concerns about ‘use of force’ policies and officer-involved shootings if we do not have a firm grasp on the demographics and circumstances of such incidents?” (He didn’t elaborate on how that might be accomplished other than saying the FBI will be “a leader” in “urging departments around the country to give us the facts we all need.”)