Washington: The director of the FBI acknowledged racial bias in US law enforcement and the need to address the problem Thursday, in an unusually candid speech on police relations with black America.
Many people in America`s white-majority culture have biases and "react differently to a white face than a black face," James Comey said, weighing in on a delicate issue that sprang to the fore in the US last year after the deaths of several black men at the hands of white policemen.
US officers who police high-crime minority areas often develop an unintentional prejudice, Comey told Georgetown University in Washington.
"The two young black men on one side of the street look like so many others the officer has locked up. Two young white men on the other side of the street -- even in the same clothes -- do not," he said.
"A mental shortcut becomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lights," Comey said. "And that drives different behavior."
Policing and race relations are under a fierce spotlight in the US, with demonstrations erupting around the country late last year after the killings of mainly unarmed, black men, with protesters hitting out at what they called disproportionate use of force by police.
The double murder of two police officers in New York by a man angry over the police shootings sparked a backlash in the debate, with some people saying criticism of law enforcement had gone too far.
Many New York police officers protested against the city`s mayor over his remarks on race relations.
But Comey said only an honest discussion about race and policing that acknowledges the problems of law enforcement`s past and also the "disproportionate challenges faced by young men of color" will lead to change.
"We must understand how that young man may see us. We must resist the lazy shortcuts of cynicism and approach him with respect and decency," he said.
"But the `seeing` needs to flow in both directions. Citizens also need to really see the men and women of law enforcement," Comey added.
"They need to understand the difficult and frightening work they do to keep us safe. They need to give them the space and respect to do their work well and properly."