The F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, delivered an unusually candid speech on Thursday about the difficult relationship between the police and African-Americans, saying that officers who work in neighborhoods where blacks commit crimes at a high rate develop a cynicism that shades their attitudes about race.
Citing the song â€œEveryoneâ€™s a Little Bit Racistâ€ from the Broadway show â€œAvenue Q,â€ he said police officers of all races viewed black and white men differently. In an address to students at Georgetown University, Mr. Comey said that some officers scrutinize African-Americans more closely using a mental shortcut that â€œbecomes almost irresistible and maybe even rational by some lightsâ€ because black men are arrested at much higher rates than white men.
In speaking about racial issues at such length, Mr. Comey used his office in a way that none of his predecessors had. His remarks also went beyond what President Obama and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. have said since an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., in August.
Mr. Comey said that his speech, which was well received by law enforcement officials, was motivated by his belief that the country had not â€œhad a healthy dialogueâ€ since the protests began in Ferguson and that he did not â€œwant to see those important issues drift away.â€
Previous F.B.I. directors had limited their public comments about race to civil rights investigations, like murders committed by the Ku Klux Klan and the bureauâ€™s wiretapping of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Â But Mr. Comey tried to dissect the issue layer by layer.
He started by acknowledging that law enforcement had a troubled legacy when it came to race.
â€œAll of us in law enforcement must be honest enough to acknowledge that much of our history is not pretty,â€ he said. â€œAt many points in American history, law enforcement enforced the status quo, a status quo that was often brutally unfair to disfavored groups.â€
Mr. Comey said there was significant research showing that all people have unconscious racial biases. Law enforcement officers, he said, need â€œto design systems and processes to overcome that very human part of us all.â€
In September, at a speech at NYU, Holder defended the lack of prosecutions of top executives on the grounds that, in the corporate context, sometimes bad things just happen without actual people being responsible. “Responsibility remains so diffuse, and top executives so insulated,” Holder said, “that any misconduct could again be considered more a symptom of the institution’s culture than a result of the willful actions of any single individual.”
In other words, people don’t commit crimes, corporate culture commits crimes! It’s probably fortunate that Holder is quitting before he has time to apply the same logic to Mafia or terrorism cases.
Fleischmann, for her part, had begun to find the whole situation almost funny.
“I thought, ‘I swear, Eric Holder is gas-lighting me,’â€‰” she says.
Ask her where the crime was, and Fleischmann will point out exactly how her bosses at JPMorgan Chase committed criminal fraud: It’s right there in the documents; just hand her a highlighter and some Post-it notes â€“ “We lawyers love flags” â€“ and you will not find a more enthusiastic tour guide through a gazillion-page prospectus than Alayne Fleischmann.
She believes the proof is easily there for all the elements of the crime as defined by federal law â€“ the bank made material misrepresentations, it made material omissions, and it did so willfully and with specific intent, consciously ignoring warnings from inside the firm and out.
She’d like to see something done about it, emphasizing that there still is time. The statute of limitations for wire fraud, for instance, has not run out, and she strongly believes there’s a case there, against the bank’s executives. She has no financial interest in any of this, no motive other than wanting the truth out. But more than anything, she wants it to be over.
In today’s America, someone like Fleischmann â€“ an honest person caught for a little while in the wrong place at the wrong time â€“ has to be willing to live through an epic ordeal just to get to the point of being able to open her mouth and tell a truth or two. And when she finally gets there, she still has to risk everything to take that last step. “The assumption they make is that I won’t blow up my life to do it,” Fleischmann says. “But they’re wrong about that.”
Good for her, and great for her that it’s finally out. But the big-picture ending still stings. She hopes otherwise, but the likely final verdict is a Pyrrhic victory.
Because after all this activity, all these court actions, all these penalties (both real and abortive), even after a fair amount of noise in the press, the target companies remain more ascendant than ever. The people who stole all those billions are still in place. And the bank is more untouchable than ever â€“ former Debevoise & Plimpton hotshots Mary Jo White and Andrew Ceresny, who represented Chase for some of this case, have since been named to the two top jobs at the SEC. As for the bank itself, its stock price has gone up since the settlement and flirts weekly with five-year highs. They may lose the odd battle, but the markets clearly believe the banks won the war. Truth is one thing, and if the right people fight hard enough, you might get to hear it from time to time. But justice is different, and still far enough away.