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FBI director discusses problems of racism in law enforcement

Even in short-term retrospect, it is clear that 2014 was a year of racial reckoning in the United States. Numerous high-profile cases of unarmed black men being shot and killed by white police officers dominated the news and sparked protests across the country.

Although a few specific incidents were responsible for prompting protests and public outrage, they merely fanned the flames of a long-burning problem. Law enforcement agencies in the United States have long been accused of harassing and criminalizing minority communities, particularly African Americans. Recently, that sentiment was echoed in a surprisingly candid speech made by James Comey, the current director of the FBI.

Comey discussed how law enforcement has traditionally enforced "a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups." He cited his own Irish ancestors as an example of a minority group that was once subjected to discrimination.

But first and foremost, Comey noted, African Americans have faced the worst and most frequent discrimination and harassment by established institutions, including law enforcement.

Empathy is a first step in addressing the problem, Comey suggested. He said: "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."

Comey also suggested two concrete steps that his own agency should be taking to improve race relations and prevent officer-involved shootings. The first would be to diversify the FBI, which is currently "overwhelmingly white and male."

The second step would be to keep better records about deaths of suspects inflicted by law enforcement officers. For all the data the government keeps, records of officer-involved killings are piecemeal and incomplete at best.

There is no single solution to the long-lasting effects of slavery, racism and poverty in America. But until or unless we are willing to have difficult and honest conversations, no progress is even possible. Hopefully, Comey's speech indicates a willingness to get the conversation started.

Source: The Huffington Post, "FBI Director: 'Lazy' Racial Biases May Affect Law Enforcement," Ryan J. Reilly, Feb. 12, 2015

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Meet Attorney Guillory

Attorney Joshua S. Guillory was born in Alexandria, Louisiana. Upon graduating high school from Alexandria Senior High, he enrolled in classes at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree. Josh was a member of Mu Kappa Tau, a national honor society for marketing majors, while attending... Read More

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