"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Structural Racism”: ‘Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist’ Doesn’t Excuse Ongoing Police Violence

On Thursday, FBI director James Comey gave a long and searching speech called “Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race” – complete with deep meditations on race, predictable but annoying equivocations, and harmful misdirection about the violence of policing.

It also included – in an unquestionable first for an FBI director giving a public speech – quotes from the oversexed, cursing puppets of the Broadway musical Avenue Q. (Who knows if FBI brass have quoted them in private before; if only J Edgar Hoover could have lived to see this!)

Comey frankly acknowledged his predecessor Hoover’s immoral pursuits of Martin Luther King and that at “many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.” He invoked his own ancestry to show how the Irish were once so loathed by the cops that vehicles used to mass transport prisoners are still called “paddy wagons” without forgetting that, although the “Irish had tough times – little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans.”

And while it was encouraging to hear Comey say that Americans need some actual goddamned government statistics on how often cops kill people rather than relying upon sites like, it didn’t exactly fill me with confidence that he was so convinced only after he “listened to a thoughtful big city police chief express his frustration with that lack of reliable data” who “didn’t know whether the Ferguson police shot one person a week, one a year, or one a century.”

Does it matter? Isn’t one lost life one too many?

In his prepared remarks, Comey never used the word “racism”. He did use the word “racist” three times – but twice it was to say cops really aren’t racist, and once to quote the song “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist” from Avenue Q.

Though I was as gleeful as the next homosexual to see a raunchy Broadway musical quoted by the head of the FBI, Comey was actually equivocating on racism’s power to harm by using it: “We all – white and black – carry various biases around with us”, he said. And while that may be true, no level of civilian bias against police, not even cars blaring NWA’s Fuck the Police (as I heard often while in Ferguson myself) justifies the police violence against which protesters are fighting. The structural racism people of color experience isn’t harming police – unless they’re people of color, off duty, and subjected to stop and frisk by their fellow officers.

He did address the cynicism and “mental shortcuts” which exacerbate racial profiling. But then he alleged it doesn’t mean an officer is racist when “mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights”, nor did he even name systematic racism as at work there.

Comey also talked about how “data shows that the percentage of young men not working or not enrolled in school is nearly twice as high for blacks as it is for whites”, adding that he understands “the hard work to develop violence-resistant and drug-resistant kids, especially in communities of color.” But kids in communities of color don’t need to “Just Say No” – they need, and we need, to demand an end to economic segregation and a lack of educational opportunity.

The FBI director hinted at the existence of racism when he talked of changing a legacy “so enormous and so complicated that it is, unfortunately, easier to talk only about the cops”. He is right that it’s not fair to pin everything on police; but, it’s unhelpful misdirection to point at (unarmed) citizens failing to “really see the men and women of law enforcement” (who are always armed) as the problem with policing.

It’s also unhelpful to act like being a cop is more dangerous than it actually is. Existing data has shown that it’s not a particularly dangerous job; it’s not even among the 10 most dangerous jobs in America. Far more people are killed by cops in any given year than cops are killed by civilians – and, cops who do die “in the line of duty” are about as likely to do so in a vehicle related injury than by being shot.

Still, no amount of pandering to the homosexual agenda with Avenue Q quotes can soften the blow of hearing the nation’s top cop ignoring the very basis of our legal system by claiming – right after a year with a record number of legal exonerations – that “criminal suspects routinely lie about their guilt, and the people we charge are overwhelmingly guilty.” Actually, criminal suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law; exonerations indicate that even those decisions aren’t permanent.

This week, there have been a number of positive developments in the fight against police violence; Comey’s speech is among them, to be sure, along with the lawsuit against Ferguson debtors’ prisons and the MacArthur Foundation ponying up $75mn to fight overincarceration. But Comey’s speech isn’t the big sign of progress; the real progress is that, six months after Mike Brown was killed, the movement that his death triggered is still so powerful that the head of the FBI finally feels the need to address the injustice that so many Americans now find apparent.


By: Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, February 13, 2014

February 14, 2015 Posted by | James Comey, Law Enforcement, Police Abuse | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: