FBI Director James Comey gave an unprecedented speech on racial profiling and tensions amongst law enforcement, but then seemingly excused it all.
Originally published Feb. 17, 2015
In an unprecedented move, FBI Director James Comey addressed a crowd at Georgetown University on the racial tensions and culture of racial profiling amongst the law-enforcement community.
But that's where Comey made his mistake: He never acknowledged racial profiling as a cultural issue.
Instead of directly approaching the issues, Comey seemed to make excuses for them. Instead of admitting that racial profiling—and, more importantly, what lies behind it—is a cultural issue, he chose to quote a Broadway musical (Avenue Q) and note that "everyone's a little bit racist."
"I worry that this incredibly important and difficult conversation about race and policing has become focused entirely on the nature and character of law-enforcement officers when it should also be about something much harder to discuss," Comey said. "Debating the nature of policing is very important but I worry that it has become an excuse at times to avoid doing something harder."
But then he began to provide the excuses.
- "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";
- "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 sinister association about the two white guys, whether that officer is white or black";
- :A tragedy of American life—one that most citizens are able to drive around because it doesn't touch them—is that young people in 'those neighborhoods' too often inherit from that dysfunction a legacy of crime and prison. And with that inheritance, they become part of a police officer's life, and shape the way that officer—whether white or Black—sees the world."
And this is where Comey's excuses begin to ignore the underlying cultural problems that lead to the rampant racial profiling that he sorta-kinda admits exists.
America is segregated. It is. In nearly every major city, the population is segregated.
Even in Ferguson, the police station is located in a wealthier, mostly white neighborhood. Michael Brown was shot to death—and police presence was almost nonexistent on the night Darren Wilson's lack of indictment was announced—in an almost entirely Black neighborhood.
In many cities, that police officer walking down the street won't see two Black guys on one side and two white guys on the other.
As a result, crime is segregated. Yes, somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 percent of the Black Americans who are murdered are killed by other Blacks.
And 83 percent of white murder victims are killed by other whites.
But somehow, on that mysterious street where segregation doesn't exist, the officer only sees the two Black men as resembling criminals the officer has arrested before.
Or maybe it's because almost every coworker this officer sees on a daily basis is white.
The U.S. Census Bureau has demographic data on police officers in 755 cities nationwide. In three-quarters of them, the percentage of white police officers is higher than the percentage of whites living in the city.
In 23 cities, the percentage of white police officers is three times the percentage of whites in the community.
In 29 cities, there are FIVE times as many.
So, yes, Comey was right in sorta-kinda acknowledging—something the FBI doesn't do very often—that there are racial disparities and issues that need to be addressed.
He just chose to address the symptoms instead of the cause.
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Luke Visconti, CEO: Starbucks CEO Needs to Start Discussion About Race With His Leadership Team, Not Minimum-Wage Employees and Customers
This is nothing but a cheap publicity stunt. Schultz is a multibillionaire, yet he has not been involved in a constructive way in the discussion of race until now.
Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz got into the news this week by encouraging his baristas to spark conversations on race with customers by writing the words "Race Together" on customers' coffee cups. He did this in partnership with USA Today, which published an eight-page "supplement and conversation guide."
Both companies should start a discussion about race and gender in their own boardrooms. Here's a link to Starbucks' executive page—it's astoundingly white and male: 84 percent male, 79 percent white. Two Black people, two Asians. Apparently, no Latinos. (Who is growing your coffee, Starbucks?) Here's a link to USA Today's executive page—it's ALL white men.
The area on USA Today's website about this venture even includes Schultz being interviewed by a white reporter—the irony of two white men discussing race and of Schultz talking about corporate responsibility is apparently lost on both. Leadership at both companies is so astoundingly tone deaf that they couldn't even see how ridiculous this all looks.
In my opinion, it's a cheap publicity stunt. Schultz is a multibillionaire, yet I can find no links to where he's been involved in a constructive way in the discussion of race until now. And by constructive, I mean putting your money where your mouth is. Here's his (pathetic) community involvement info. I've been a trustee of a Historically Black College for 10 years, I'm a member of HACU's Corporate and Philanthropy Council, I'm on the board of the National Organization on Disability, and I'm chair of the board of a Hispanic Serving Institution's foundation. I've been involved with Rainbow PUSH. In over 15 years of intense community service, I've never seen a Starbucks sponsorship or scholarship. Starbucks has been conspicuously stingy—which is fine if you want to live that way, but please don't leverage your economic clout to talk about things with authority that you have no involvement with outside of your imagination.
While Schultz is discussing corporate responsibility, he should address his company's impact on impoverished coffee growers worldwide: His coffee is not fair trade.
Like many companies that want to leverage diversity monetarily, there's nothing of substance on the Starbucks website regarding diversity, philanthropy or fair-trade coffee. There's a lot of lofty language, a lot of positioning, very little facts and figures—no discussion of money in a relative sense to market impact, revenue or wealth.
The good news is that the negative backlash has already whipped into hurricane proportions. Corey duBrowa (a white man), Starbucks' Senior Vice President of Global Communications, deleted his Twitter account after an avalanche of negative tweets. But Starbucks isn't backing off; this discussion is heading into the company's shareholders meeting, where I hope the board of directors asks the hard questions presented in this column.
Schultz said, "We at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America. Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are."
I think he should point fingers—at himself. Until his executive team looks substantially more like the minimum-wage workers we taxpayers have to subsidize, the discussion of race should be internal and intense. How did his executive team wind up looking like it does? When is it going to change? Who is going to be held accountable? Do we have the chops to talk about race when we have done nothing about it? Should we be selling coffee on the back of this subject?
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Update (3/10/2015 1:03 p.m.): President David Boren of the University of Oklahoma announced that two students were identified as leaders in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon racist chanting video. The students were expelled according to Boren stating "that there is zero tolerance for this kind of threatening racist behavior" at the school.