FBI Director James Comey spoke last week at Georgetown University about race relations between law enforcement and the communities they serve, following the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in Staten Island, along with ongoing protests throughout the country and the killings of NYPD Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
In his speech, Comey talks about the overdue "open and honest discussion" we need to have as a society, one that recognize both historical and present realities of America's law enforcement legacy.
Those of us in law enforcement must redouble our efforts to resist bias and prejudice. We must better understand the people we serve and protect—by trying to know, deep in our gut, what it feels like to be a law-abiding young black man walking on the street and encountering law enforcement. We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency.
We must work—in the words of New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton—to really see each other. Perhaps the reason we struggle as a nation is because we’ve come to see only what we represent, at face value, instead of who we are. We simply must see the people we serve.
But the “seeing” needs to flow in both directions. Citizens also need to really see the men and women of law enforcement. They need to see what police see through the windshields of their squad cars, or as they walk down the street. They need to see the risks and dangers law enforcement officers encounter on a typical late-night shift. They need to understand the difficult and frightening work they do to keep us safe. They need to give them the space and respect to do their work, well and properly.
If they take the time to do that, what they will see are officers who are human, who are overwhelmingly doing the right thing for the right reasons, and who are too often operating in communities—and facing challenges—most of us choose to drive around.
Not In Our Town has been following discussions about race around the country, including several short films in Ferguson, MO and Oakland, CA. See Not In Our Town's coverage at "Ferguson Conversations." The director's speech is also available at NIOT.org/COPS.