Yesterday, FBI Director James Comey gave an impassioned speech about the “disconnect” between many minority communities in America and the police officers charged with keeping them safe. He listed four “hard truths” that the police and the public need to come to terms with in order to fix the current system.
The first “hard truth” was that “at many points in American history,” law enforcement has been used to oppress ethnic and other minorities through violence, intimidation, and brutality. Well, rather, Comey said, “law enforcement enforced the status quo…that was brutally unfair.”
This is less a hard truth than it is a watered-down history lesson. Convict-lease systems, in many respects, extended slavery well into the 20th century by using vagrancy and other charges to incarcerate black men and sell them into dangerous industrial slavery. Police were used to enforce segregation and violently break up peaceful marches throughout the Civil Rights Era. And, throughout our history, blacks have been the victims of wanton police violence for any number of reasons from John Lewis to Rodney King to Michael Brown to Eric Garner and countless others in between. Since Emancipation, when they lost the protection as a master’s property, black people—particularly young black men—have had an antagonistic relationship with the police, effectively without interruption.