The FBI director said the absence of reliable data about how often police use force contributed to a regrettable narrative that "biased police are killing black men at epidemic rates."
"It is a narrative driven by video images of real and gut-wrenching misconduct, by images of possible misconduct, by images of perceived misconduct," Comey said at a conference of international chiefs of police on Sunday, according to AP. "It's a narrative given force by the awesome power of human empathy."
Comey said those videos of fatal police encounters that capture the public's attention and are shared broadly across the internet can fuel the perception that "something terrible is being done by the police," even if the data aren't there to back it up.
Americans "actually have no idea if the number of black or brown or white people being shot by police is up, down or sideways over the last three years, five years, 10 years," or if black people are more likely than white people to be shot during police encounters, Comey said.
"In the absence of information, we have anecdotes, we have videos, we have good people believing something terrible is happening in the country," he said. "In a nation of almost 1 million sworn law enforcement officers, and tens of millions of police encounters every year, a small group of videos serves as proof of an epidemic."
Video footage of the police-involved death of Eric Garner on Staten Island in June 2014 prompted massive protests in New York. The police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014 prompted a week-long protest and vigil before descending into rioting that led to burned-out businesses. In April 2015, vigils and protests erupted into two days of rioting over the death of Freddie Grey in police custody in Baltimore before the governor declared a state of emergency. In July 2016, the shooting death of Philando Castile, where his girlfriend recorded her reaction and interaction with police moments after he was shot, led to a week of protest and vigil before descending into a riot lasting two days.
Comment: Considering the generally held belief that the media is controlled by Washington - whose purpose is served by this? Is it that we are magically getting the truth all of a sudden? We also know that Intelligence Agencies manage many "alternative news" assets and Facebook as well as Twitter. Something smells rotten in the state of Denmark.
Comey's comments somewhat surprisingly contradict the findings of the Justice Department's own investigations into police department misconduct across the nation.
In August, the Justice Department, after reviewing data from 2010 to 2016, found the Baltimore Police Department engaged in unconstitutional practices that lead to disproportionate rates of stops, searches and arrests of blacks, and excessive use of force against juveniles and people with mental health disabilities.
Among the findings:
- African-Americans accounted for 95 percent of 410 individuals stopped at least 10 times from 2010 to 2016
- One African-American man in his 50s was stopped 30 times in less than four years; none of the stops resulted in a citation or criminal charge
- African-Americans accounted for 82 percent of all BPD vehicle stops though they make up 60 percent of the driving age population in the city and 27 percent percent of the driving age population in the greater metropolitan area.
Comment: None of these statistics tell you anything. n=410 across 6 years is hardly interesting as a sample size or time scale. 1 man being stopped 50 times tells you nothing about why he was stopped or where he was stopped. 80/62% tells us little if anything about the situation because within the city the population of Blacks is twice what it is in surrounding area - which is to say none of these numbers make any sense. Are more stops being performed in more "dangerous" neighborhoods? Who knows - certainly not us and not from these dangerous sounding statistics.
These statistics are political statistics. This is a study in how to lie with statistics - the question is: why?
When the Justice Department agrees with the prevailing sentiment - we start to ask: What's their angle? Was this planned? Is someone pulling a fast one? How do we "know what we know" about the current "racism" in America? Who told us, and why did they tell us? Cui bono?
The Justice Department made similar findings for police departments in Newark, New Jersey, St. Louis, Missouri, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Comey did admit "There are bad cops. There are departments with troubled cultures. Unfortunately, people are flawed. But for law enforcement, the spotlight is brighter, and the standards are higher. And that's the way it should be."
Another protest descended into a riot between September 20 to 22, in Charlotte, North Carolina, as people protested the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, a black man, who police alleged was carrying a gun after video was released. A protester was shot and killed during the demonstrations.
"Each video becomes further proof of an epidemic nationwide of police brutality. Our officers see the videos. They desperately do not want to be in one. They think about that all the time," said Comey.
He added that the narrative makes the gap between police and the community worse.
The Justice Department said last week it would start collecting data on police shootings, and Comey said a database was critical in helping the police improve public perception of officers and "closing a chasm of distrust and fear."
Comment: Anyone who has ever tried to track down concrete criminal stats knows how poor the record keeping of crimes, internationally, is. With so many "advocacy statistics" running around - people should stop to ask: what is the original source of the data. It's also important to remember - not all cities and people are the same. Most statistics work off the faulty assumption that we can reason very specifically about people based on generalities, or we can reason very generally about people based on specificities.
Says who? What data source? What sample size? What's the bias? It's conspicuous that ideological groups always find proof of the very thing they start out to find - their beliefs about the world seem always to be valid. Their findings are usually presented right before they ask for money or power.
"We need to collect actual, accurate and complete information about policing in this country so that we have informed debates about things that matter enormously," Comey said. "Our officers see the videos. They desperately do not want to be in one. They think about that all the time."