"Frankly Speaking" Blog

Racial profiling has shattered public trust in police

In a recent article published in The New York Times, F.B.I. Director James Comey delivered an unusually candid speech at Georgetown University in which he called for an honest discussion about race and the attitudes of law enforcement.

The article quoted Mr. Comey as saying that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that “becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights” because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.

In recent public comments, President Barack Obama said that racial discrimination from police in Ferguson was “oppressive and abusive.” Obama calls for communities to work together to address tensions between police and residents without succumbing to cynical attitudes that say “this is never going to change because everybody’s racist. That’s not a good solution.”

I previously worked for former Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee as a senior legislative counsel for judicial and executive branch nominations like the U.S. attorney general, the F.B.I. director and other high-ranking Justice Department officials during my tenure from 1998 to 2003. Prior to my departure, I prepared Sen. Specter for Mr. Comey’s nomination to be deputy attorney general of the U.S.

So, I know that it’s rare for the F.B.I. director to give such a high-profile, yet brutally honest, summation of his perception about the uncomfortable history of mistrust between certain minority communities and law enforcement agencies across the country. In fact, Mr. Comey is a well-known and well-respected Republican and he is known to be a no-nonsense federal prosecutor at his core, so his commentary was really enlightening, brutally honest and thoughtful. The lack of the usual political backlash from the opposing party was equally surprising, as noted in a Washington Post blog written by Jonathan Capehart about the silence Mr. Comey’s race talk received from Republicans.

Mr. Comey is definitely on to something, especially when we look at statistics in Georgia in regards to the incarceration and suspension rates for African-Americans and their white counterparts. In 2013, according to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations, 65,000 individuals in Georgia were arrested; however, 57 percent of these individuals were non-white despite the fact that people of color make up only 37.5 percent of the state’s general population. These statistics track the troubling yet real disparity in school suspensions between black and white students in Georgia: In 2012, 37 percent of all public school students in Georgia were African-American; however, they made up 54 percent of all in-school suspensions, 66 percent of out-of school suspensions and 50 percent of expulsion in the state’s school system.

Since more than 85 percent of the children we serve in Fulton County, DeKalb County and the City of Atlanta are African-Americans, we as an organization had to address this mistrust by bringing our children and local law enforcement officials together to develop a better understanding and to build trust so our children won’t become part of the above-mentioned statistics.

Communities In Schools of Atlanta is working with the DeKalb County Prosecutor’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to host the Straight Talk Student Forum at McNair Middle School. The program provides activities for CIS students twice per month, including discussions on topics such as gang, gun and family violence, internet safety, life skills and the importance of education. There’s potential for Straight Talk to conduct whole school assemblies at our high schools during which men, including former inmates and former DA’s, can engage in a forum style discussion about community-related violence prevention topics.

Straight Talk allows our students to develop positive relationships with law enforcement officials prior to a crime or incident occurring.

Frank Brown, Esq.
Executive Director
Communities In Schools of Atlanta