President Donald Trump sent shockwaves far beyond the beltway yesterday when he abruptly fired James Comey, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Coming on the heels of Sally Yates’s testimony regarding former national security adviser Michael Flynn, the move has inflamed speculation that Comey’s dismissal is related to the FBI investigation into the Trump administration's contact with Russia. It’s clear that we’re all living in interesting times.
While I’ll leave it to the pundits to unpack the ramifications of the current drama, there is one largely overlooked element of the story that I’d like to flag for your watercooler conversations: Comey learned of his dismissal while visiting with FBI agents in Los Angeles, in part to prepare for a diversity recruiting event he was scheduled to attend later that evening.
While this may be the least interesting element of yesterday’s news, the FBI’s stunning lack of diversity remains one of the more serious issues facing the agency – and the country it serves - in the long term. According to the FBI’s own statistics, 83% of special agents, 78% of intelligence analysts, and 69% of professional staff are white. Comey, as it turned out, was on the case.
Last July, the former director gave a speech to a group of security officials for HBCUs at the invitation of Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona Beach, Fla. “We have a crisis in the FBI and it is this: Slowly but steadily over the last decade or more, the percentage of special agents in the FBI who are white has been growing.’’ It was a time when many leaders were struggling to articulate a message on race and police violence, and Comey did not disappoint. He told the group that it was his job to reverse the trend at the FBI. “That is a path to a fall down a flight of stairs…83% will become 100%, and we will be less effective for the American people,” he said. “I will have failed if I don’t change this.”
It had become a refrain. Comey gave an unusually candid speech at Georgetown in February 2015, where he talked about the “complicated” relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. He mentioned Michael Brown and Eric Garner, and police officers who had been targeted and killed. He affirmed the anger many feel toward law enforcement. And, in the service of encouraging necessary conversations, he offered some hard truths. “All of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty.” He cited research confirming the widespread existence of unconscious bias, and called on law enforcement “to design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.”
It was a well-crafted speech, unlike anything delivered by any of his predecessors. If you’ve got 22 minutes to spare, it’s worth your time. Watch it here.
In the bumpy days ahead, I expect the focus to remain on the ongoing investigation into the administration’s alleged Russian ties. But eventually, a director nominee will face Senate approval. Is too much to hope that someone will ask a question about why the FBI is so white? And that the nominee will have a serious answer? As imperfect as he may have been at times, Comey understood the profound importance of an agency that looked like the world it served. Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity...Diversity? If not now, when?
Auntie Maxine is not kidding about wanting to impeach the president
Jonathan Capehart recently sat down Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who came prepared to speak about the "con man" in the Oval Office with unalloyed verve. Now that she’s become everyone’s favorite “Auntie Maxine” she says she feels a renewed obligation to keep things real. In addition to enjoying the moniker, she is reveling in the new respect she’s feeling from young voters. “I was surprised to learn that a lot of the young people don’t respect or believe politicians,” she says of her millenial fans who are stopping her on the street for selfies and her Auntie outlook on life. She doubled down calls for impeachment, and had tough words for Attorney General Jeff Sessions as well.“I think he is a racist, I think he’s a throwback and I don’t mind saying it any day of the week,” she says.
A commencement speech by Betsy DeVos has alums threatening to mail their degrees back
Some 50,000 signatures have now been collected on a petition with a pointed message to the leadership of the historically black Bethune-Cookman University: Betsy DeVos is not the right choice for a commencement speaker. The Education Secretary has had a rocky relationship with HBCUs. First, she had to clarify her remarks after she referred to them as “pioneers in school choice.” More recently, she had to unpack a statement from President Trump that seemed to indicate his belief that funding for HBCUs might be unconstitutional. Despite the protest, her commencement address remains scheduled for today. UPDATE: It didn't go well for DeVos.
Texas passed a bill allowing discrimination against same-sex and other couples seeking to foster or adopt
The Texas House of Representatives has passed Texas House Bill 3859, which effectively allows foster care and adoption-related service providers to discriminate against gay or non-Christian parents. The Texas Observer explains the current crisis in child welfare in the state; children are forced to sleep hotels or in Child Protective Service offices because of a lack of available homes. Worse, more than 200 kids died of abuse or neglect in Texas last year. Click below for the statement from the Human Rights Commission, which has also raised concerns that the bill may allow agencies to refer LGBTQ children to “conversion therapy” providers. Research shows that LGBTQ youth are overrepresented in the foster care system.
Parent company of retailer TJ Maxx under fire for its all white, all male executive team
The ironic twist: The company, TJX, looks like a diversity champion on paper. Three-quarters of the retailer's employees are women, half are people of color, and it’s welcoming to LGBTQ employees and employees with disabilities. But all of the top executives are white men, which has prompted NorthStar Asset Management to file a proposal with the board to link CEO pay to diversity benchmarks. While diversity at the store level makes sense, "As management gets further and further away from their customer base, that’s when they start making stupid decisions around merchandising,” says NorthStar’s CEO. TJX is also the parent company of Marshalls and Homegoods. The company has recommended that shareholders vote no on NorthStar’s proposal.
What if neurodiversity was considered a competitive advantage?
This is the premise of a fascinating piece in this month’s HBR, which highlights the way people with extraordinary skills often fail to make it past the first few minutes of an interview, let alone thrive in an office environment. But with the right accommodations, people with autism spectrum disorder are increasingly being welcomed in the workplace, and bring with them key strengths in mathematics, memory and pattern recognition. Several major companies like SAP, Microsoft, EY and Ford have re-tooled their talent efforts to make it easier to recruit and train neurodiverse candidates, and are discovering pay-offs far beyond bragging rights.
The Woke Leader
For today’s college kids, the Rodney King beating was NBD
“If you want to feel old, teach.” So begins this post from a nice-sounding guy named Ed, who describes himself as an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Midwestern Liberal Arts University. In an attempt to encourage a discussion of Rodney King and the L.A. riots, he was dismayed to discover that most students hadn't heard of King - and all just shrugged after watching the grainy video. “This is a generation of kids so numb to seeing videos of police beating, tasering, shooting, and otherwise applying the power of the state to unarmed and almost inevitably black or Hispanic men that they legitimately could not understand why a video of cops beating up a black guy (who *didn't even die* for pete's sake!) was shocking enough to cause a widespread breakdown of public order,” he writes. He describes it as one of the most depressing moments he's had in the classroom.
The world’s oldest living Nuremberg prosecutor is still fighting for peace
Ben Ferencz, now 97, is the last living prosecutor who served during the world’s biggest murder trial: The Nuremberg trial for genocidal crimes committed by German SS officers during World War II. Ferencz is preternaturally fit, with a sunny personality that bears no scars from the experience of understanding the many atrocities of which humans are capable. He immigrated to the US as a child from a small town in Romania, the first of his family to go to college. He’s spent his life working to establish an international court to deter genocide and war crimes. “Well, if it's naive to want peace instead of war, let 'em make sure they say I'm naive. Because I want peace instead of war,” he told Lesley Stahl in a truly life-affirming interview. “And I'm still in there fighting. And you know what keeps me going? I know I'm right.”
What does it mean to be white?
One of the enduring problems of talking about race is the default position that white people don’t have one. Here's another way to look at the issue: Since "whiteness" is associated with positive attributes like power, beauty, and leadership, white people don’t have an easy way to interpret their own lived experiences outside of the messy context of their invisible status. Writer and professor Eula Biss grew up in a multi-racial family and has been wrestling with the language around race for a long time. She uses the word “complacent” as an example. “[O]ne of the privileges of being white, is that you can coast through your experience, you can coast through your life without having to think about what your race means to other people, and what your existence in a community means to the people around you.”
The BCP (Breakfast for Children Program) promotes at least tacit support for the Black Panther Party among naive individuals and, what is more distressing, it provides the BPP with a ready audience composed of highly impressionable youths. Consequently, the BCP represents the best and most influential activity going for the BPP and, as such, is potentially the greatest threat to efforts by authorities to neutralize the BPP and destroy what it stands for.
—J. Edgar Hoover