February 25, 2015

It is challenging to find a voice of candor when tensions are high and stakes are higher. And yet, this is when the bold, honest truth is most important.

So, I find it both hopeful and empowering that FBI Director James B. Comey recently addressed the “hard truth” about potential racial prejudice among law enforcement during a recent speech at Georgetown University.

“We are at a crossroads. As a society, we can choose to live our lives every day, raising our families, going to work and hoping someone, somewhere will do something to ease the tension, to smooth over the conflict. . . . Or we can choose instead to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today.”

Comey’s remarks feel genuine, possibly because of the gravity with which he speaks, but also because of his depth of knowledge and his willingness to say uncomfortable things. During his speech, he did not make excuses or offer irrelevant apologies. He did share his perspective on the roots of racial bias and he acknowledged the magnitude of our failure to overcome the issue without placing blame. In doing so, Comey brings credibility to the dialogue. Credibility and candor go hand in hand.

“We simply must find a way to see each other more clearly,” Comey said.

Comey’s remarks were well-received. Candor of this significance – on such a brutally troubling topic, from someone with great power to affect change – was long overdue.

“With this speech, Jim Comey brought the FBI right into the national conversation about race and policing. His candor and forthrightness are striking and a breath of fresh air.” Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (as quoted by reporter Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post)

“It is extremely profound and timely that the folks at the highest level of the justice system and law enforcement are beginning to talk publicly about what they know and we have always suspected,” said Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis branch of the NAACP (as quoted by reporter Sari Horwitz in The Washington Post)

Director Comey, as the pinnacle of leadership among law enforcement in our nation, serves as an example to leaders in any and every field. When something is terribly wrong, the leaders at the top must set the tone for the dialogue that begins the solution. Anything else is passive acceptance of failure.

I feel a sense of gratitude for Comey’s speech. In it, he is engaging all citizens in the process of solving the problem. His words – if received with candor – have the potential to throw open the flood gates of growth and healing in our nation.

See the full text of his remarks here: http://www.fbi.gov/news/speeches/hard-truths-law-enforcement-and-race