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Ex-FBI Chief Comey Leads HU Lecture on Race, Law Enforcement

Former FBI Director James Comey took part in Howard University’s ongoing lecture series last week, addressing topics such as bullying tactics of local police and the training methods of FBI agents.

In the Feb. 13 conversation with Justin Hansford, civil rights activist and associate law professor at Howard, the two exchanged perspectives on historical and current law enforcement actions and their impact on communities of color.

Comey talked of how the federal law enforcement agency operated within the shadow of its history of investigating and stalking people such as Marcus Garvey and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the killing of Black Panther member Fred Hampton.

“I tried to make the FBI stare at that history,” he said. “Transparency is good, especially transparency about the way you have misbehaved and engaged in misconduct. It’s critical because all of human history seems to be of the history you don’t remember.”

Comey, who holds the 2017-2018 Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy at Howard, said he commissioned a course for new FBI agents and analysts where they studied the tactics used in monitoring King. At the end of the course, the trainees came to D.C. to visit the King Memorial and were assigned to pick a King quote and write an essay about how the quote intersects with the values of the FBI.

“We are not telling them what to think, we want them to know the history and then think,” he said.

Comey then asked Hansford what White law enforcement officials don’t get about the lessons that started with Ferguson, Missouri.

“The fact that some think that it is as simple as there are ‘good apples’ and ‘bad apples’ is the part they don’t get,” replied Hansford, who also is the executive director of the law school’s newly opened Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center.

Hansford has firsthand experience in Ferguson, working to empower its residents through community-based legal advocacy in the wake of Black teen Michael Brown’s shooting death by a White police officer in 2014. He co-authored the Ferguson to Geneva human rights shadow report and accompanied Ferguson protesters and Brown’s family to Geneva to testify before the United Nations.

Both Comey and Hansford said they will continue engaging Howard students to foster justice initiatives in the D.C. area and in other communities throughout the country.

View the full lecture at https://youtu.be/b6mlpOi9KQg.

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