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Former FBI Director Hoover Would Have Been Suspicious of Comey’s Speech on Race

FBI Director James Comey

By E.J. Dionne
Washington Post

Last week’s speech by FBI Director James Comey at Georgetown University was remarkable on its own terms, but revolutionary in the context of his agency’s history. You wonder if the late J. Edgar Hoover would have accused Comey of subversive intent.

“All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that 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.”

He explained why he keeps on his desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The entire application is five sentences long, it is without fact or substance, and is predicated on the naked assertion that there is ‘Communist influence in the racial situation.’” He calls agents’ attention to the document, he said, “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.”

And who would think an FBI director would cite Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist, a song from the Broadway hit Avenue Q? His point: “Many people in our white-majority culture have unconscious racial biases and react differently to a white face than a black face.”

Yet Comey was unabashedly pro-cop. He fondly recalled his grandfather, William J. Comey, who rose to head the Yonkers, New York, police department. “Law enforcement is not the root cause of problems in our hardest-hit neighborhoods,” the FBI director said. “Police officers — people of enormous courage and integrity, in the main — are in those neighborhoods, risking their lives, to protect folks from offenders who are the product of problems that will not be solved by body cameras.”

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