FBI Director: “we are at a crossroads” with race relations

In a recent speech at Georgetown University on February 12, FBI Director James B. Comey spoke about race relations as it pertains to law enforcement, citing recent events in which law enforcement has engaged communities of color.

“Much of our history is not pretty,” Comey said. “At many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.” FBI Director James Comey. (Source: Washington Post via @mboorstein)

While Comey speaks in the context of law enforcement and racial bias, we can also consider systemic biases that affect how law enforcement engages with ethnic communities, and specifically with the Sikh community. Comey’s call for more data around incidents of police violence against members of ethnic communities harkens back to another call for data: one may recall the multi-year campaign to have the FBI even track the hate crimes targeting Sikhs in a specific category (as they did with other targeted communities) that, until recently, was not categorized, hampering the ability for analysis.

In his speech, Comey recognized that relations between ethnic communities and American’s federal law enforcement agency has been poor, long-standing and persistent:

“That’s our inheritance as law enforcement, and it is not all in the distant past. We must account for that inheritance. And we — especially those of us who enjoy the privilege that comes with being the majority — must confront the biases that are inescapable parts of the human condition,” he said. “We must speak the truth about our shortcomings as law enforcement and fight to be better.”

However, as part of the FBI’s attention to race relations, perhaps it would be incumbent upon the policymakers to require that all law enforcement agencies report hate crimes to the database so that accurate and relevant statistics can be available. In its current state, reporting by local law enforcement agencies to the FBI’s hate crimes database is voluntary, and we therefore do not have a representative dataset on which we can make conclusions about the size and scope of the hate crime epidemic. The only conclusions we can derive from the FBI’s current hate crime statistics is limited to the dataset itself and cannot be considered representative of the country.

Moreover, as my co-author Nina Chanpreet Kaur and I wrote in 2012 about the FBI’s response (and lack thereof) to the mass murder of Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, at the hands of a white supremacist the month prior, the attention that the agency directed towards white supremacy and the violence it incites was woefully inadequate:

…the FBI did not demonstrate that it took the white supremacist movement seriously enough to consider its role in Oak Creek.  It certainly hasn’t taken the white supremacy movement any more seriously after Oak Creek than it did before.  For the nation’s communities who are targeted by white supremacists and extreme racism every day, this means that the U.S. government is not taking serious action to protect their vulnerabilities.

As we sit over two years since the Oak Creek massacre, it is interesting that the issues regarding law enforcement relations with America’s ethnic communities have taken a new perspective, but we must not lose our own stake in this regard.

Read more about FBI Director James Comey’s speech at the Washington Post.


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