It was an embattled week for FBI Director James Comey, who drew the ire of Republicans for announcing that his agency would not be recommending charges against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, then spent the better part of Thursday getting grilled by Republicans over it on Capitol Hill. There were a few people angry at Comey for smearing Hillary Clinton as he was clearing her, but for the most part, Democrats tripped all over themselves praising Comey because they agreed with his conclusion.
But as the week drew to a close, and the Comey spectacle dominated the news, it became clear to me that the FBI director needs to be fired, and not for anything he did with regard to Hillary Clinton. President Obama should fire Director Comey because he’s on the wrong side of the problem that killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile this week. While Comey shared the media spotlight with those two most recent martyrs to police violence, no one in the media thought to connect the dots between those tragedies, and Comey’s role in enabling them:
That was Comey in October speaking at the University of Chicago Law School, regaling the audience with the theory that cops would only tell him about, that police are too afraid of video cameras to do their jobs. The White House pointed out, at the time, that there was absolutely no evidence to substantiate Comey’s claim, and in fact, some fairly vocal law enforcement officials refuting it. They made excuses for Comey, whom they claimed cast this as a “complicated” issue, but Comey was definitive that this “viral video effect” was ” the one explanation” that “makes the most sense to me.”
He went on to say that we need to be “careful” that aggressive policing “doesn’t drift away from us in the age of viral videos.” That’s not complicated. That is James Comey looking at things like what happened to Alton Sterling and deciding that the thing that’s a problem is the fact that it was caught on video.
Despite the White House’s mild rebuke, and his own admission that there was absolutely no evidence to back up his claim, Comey doubled down on them a scant few weeks ago, and the White House again pointed out that Comey was talking out of his ass, and again made excuses for him.
The political pressures that led the White House to low-key those differences are understandable to some degree, but in light of events this week, Comey’s remarks and their underlying attitude are inexcusable for a variety of reasons.
The most overlooked of these is that those remarks, and the entire “viral video effect” narrative, are viciously anti-cop. If this week has proven anything about most cops, it is that they are not afraid to get out of their cars. What Comey and his ilk would have you believe is that the same police officers who ran toward the gunfire in Dallas are afraid of an iPhone camera. If there are cops like that, they’re not good ones.
This week also proved that not even bad cops are afraid of video cameras, as demonstrated by the killers of Alton Sterling and Philanto Castile, who carried out their actions in full view of cameras.
But what’s even worse than the fact that Comey is promoting and spreading an anti-cop narrative that has no evidence to back it up is that he’s taking sides against black people, against citizens in general, and against good cops. As the White House has said, there’s no data to back up Comey’s assertion, but even if that data develops, no reasonable person who observed such an effect would conclude that the problem that needs fixing is the presence of video cameras. The fact that Comey believes this makes him unfit to lead the FBI, or even a Neighborhood Watch.
The fact is that no one in power has yet to respond to these incidents, or the many that preceded it, with anything approaching the correct sense of urgency. This is not complicated. All the conversations about race and training initiatives and task forces won’t do a bit of good until we enact true accountability in the form of three policies: Mandatory body cameras, federalized investigation and prosecution of all use of force cases, and mandatory reporting of profiling data. Everything else can be worked around. You can get good training and stay racist. But if your racist ass ends up on video and getting investigated by someone who isn’t your buddy, you’re going to stop, one way or the other.
Hillary Clinton has come closest to any of the presidential candidates in terms of ambitiously pursuing reform, making it an early and strong emphasis of her campaign. But even she is nibbling around the edges. We need leaders who are not afraid to explain that accountability isn’t anti-cop, it is pro-citizen and pro-good cop.
It is a depressing sign of the times that people like James Comey get credit simply for acknowledging that bias exists, and are therefore excused for placing the onus on black people to change it. Here’s Comey in a speech last February explaining that cops “can’t help” but become biased against black people, and insisting that “what really needs fixing” are all those black people who are “growing” kids that aren’t sufficiently drug- and violence-resistant:
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 truth is that what really needs fixing is something only a few, like President Obama, are willing to speak about, perhaps because it is so daunting a task. Through the “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative, the President is addressing the disproportionate challenges faced by young men of color. For instance, 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. This initiative, and others like it, is about doing the hard work to grow drug-resistant and violence-resistant kids, especially in communities of color, so they never become part of that officer’s life experience.
Now, the challenges that face black communities are indeed a separate and complicated issue that black people actually do spend a whole lot of time, effort, and energy addressing, but notwithstanding the fact that the overwhelming majority of black people are alreadydrug and violence “resistant,” none of that stuff is any of Comey’s business, literally. There’s no Model Negro Oath of Office that black people take in order to teach cops not to be racist, it’s not their job to condition police officers not to make racist assumptions.
That is, however, Comey’s job, and the job of every other leader in this country. A black citizen, any citizen, has the right to equal protection under the law. If they’re unwilling to do it, they should be replaced by someone who will, and Comey is flat-out saying he can’t do it. And he said it again just a few weeks ago when he gave another version ofthat same speech in Chicago.
But even if you are unmoved by Comey’s attitude, he’s guilty of another sin that renders him unfit for this office. Just like his fact-free assertion of a “viral video effect,” Comey says that police, judges, and juries aren’t “turning a blind eye” to white crime because… well, as he puts it, “I don’t think so.”
Unfortunately for Comey, the facts say otherwise, time and again. We need an FBI director who acts on facts, not his own thoughts and feelings. President Obama should replace Comey with one while he still can, and while he’s at it, maybe consider appointing the first black FBI director in our history, or maybe even our first black woman to hold that post.