FBI Director James Comey (54) has cited the bigotry directed at his Irish forbears as an example of how racism works and how it should be handled today.
Comey was at Georgetown University and delivered a rare speech by a federal law enforcement leader on the issue of race. He explained how he grew up in an Irish American family, first in Yonkers, New York, and later in New Jersey.
He stated “I am descended from Irish immigrants. A century ago, the Irish knew well how American society – and law enforcement – viewed them: as drunks, ruffians, and criminals. Law enforcement’s biased view of the Irish lives on in the nickname we still use for the vehicle that transports groups of prisoners; it is, after all, the “Paddy Wagon.”
“The Irish had tough times, but little compares to the experience on our soil of black Americans. That experience should be part of every American’s consciousness, and law enforcement’s role in that experience – including in recent times – must be remembered. It is our cultural inheritance.
“There is a reason I require all new agents and analysts to study the FBI’s interaction with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and to visit his memorial in Washington as part of their training. And there is a reason I keep on my desk a copy of Attorney General Robert Kennedy’s approval of J. Edgar Hoover’s request to wiretap Dr. King. It is a single page. 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.” The reason I do those things is to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them.
“One reason we cannot forget our law enforcement legacy is that the people we serve and protect cannot forget it, either. So we must talk about our history. It is a hard truth that lives on.”