Over the holiday weekend, I waited for something that never came. Given FBI Director James Comey’s powerful and direct speech on law enforcement and race at Georgetown University on Thursday, I thought for sure hellfire would rain down upon him from the right. After all, in tone and word, he echoed the sentiments expressed by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder on the same topic. Yet instead of being accused of having blood on his hands or labeled a race-baiter, Comey and his “hard truths” have been met with silence.
The four “hard truths” articulated by Comey were tough on police. “Much of our history is not pretty,” he said as he acknowledged law enforcement’s role in maintaining the status quo against “disfavored groups.” He talked about the unconscious bias that grips many in law enforcement. He discussed the “different flavors of cynicism” that cops “work hard to resist.” And he talked about the staggering problems facing many young men and boys of color that become part of officers’ “life experience.” In addition, Comey called on police to “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.”
That’s strong stuff. And yet, those easily irritated folks on the right who slammed Obama and Holder for saying similar things over the past six months have been rendered mute. No doubt it is because the new messenger is a white, 54-year-old Republican son of Irish immigrants and grandson of a police chief. What’s disturbing is that they willingly ignore Comey’s entreaties while trivializing the same from the president and the attorney general.
With the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown and the subsequent non-indictment of the police officers who killed them, plus the ensuing demonstrations and unrest, the last half of 2014 was a cauldron of racial unrest that the president and the attorney general worked hard to keep contained by trying to bring balance and perspective to each situation. But everything boiled over in the wake of the Dec. 20 cold-blooded murder of New York City Police Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos as they sat in their patrol car in Brooklyn.
Blame for the death of the officers was placed squarely at the feet of Mayor Bill de Blasio by police union chief Patrick Lynch. Others singled out Obama and Holder, in addition to de Blasio, for “anti-cop rhetoric.” Former New York governor George Pataki (R) said as much in a tweet on the night of the assassinations.
— George E. Pataki (@GovernorPataki) December 21, 2014
The day after the killings of Liu and Ramos, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani made similar allegations on Fox News.
We’ve had four months of propaganda starting with the president, that everybody should hate the police, I don’t care how you want to describe it, and that is what those protests are all about. The protests are being embraced. The protests are being encouraged. The protests — even the ones that don’t lead to violence — and a lot of them lead to violence, all lead to a conclusion: the police are bad, the police are racist. That is completely wrong.
The Post’s Fact Checker gave Giuliani four Pinocchios for this demonstrably false assertion. What Obama and Holder did during those tumultuous months was strike a necessary balance between the fundamental right to protest and support for the men and women who ensure that this right is exercised freely and lawfully. But the president and the attorney general, who regularly reminds listeners that his brother is a retired police officer, were not shy about placing a critical focus on the excesses of police, as they did after the Aug. 14 flare-up in Ferguson, Mo.
Obama and Holder also were not shy about expressing their innate understanding of the anger and frustration that have sown mistrust between many African Americans and law enforcement. And they did so as a way to guide a larger and much-needed conversation about that relationship. With his Georgetown address, Comey pushed our ongoing national conversation on race farther along. If only Giuliani, Pataki and others were as interested in engaging in this part of the dialogue as they are in delivering destructive monologues about how the commander in chief and the nation’s chief law enforcement officer hate the police.
Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @Capehartj