Protesters on Friday interrupted former FBI director James Comey’s inaugural speech to his new employer, Howard University, chanting slogans and singing songs throughout his entire 12-minute address.
Howard, a historically black college in Washington, D.C. and a hotbed of liberal protest culture, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.
Comey, a white man, was hired last month as a part-time lecturer. His status as a former law enforcement official led a group calling itself ‘Howard University Resist’ to organize Friday’s heckling.
‘Today is the day we #ReclaimConvocationHU. We will not let the voice and opinions of white supremacy live on this campus,’ the organization tweeted.
‘We deserve to be safe, respected, and heard. @HowardU chooses to stand for police violence and anti-Blackness before their students today.’
As Comey took the podium during the annual convocation ceremony, a group of protesters stood in the back with their fists raised in ‘black power’ salutes.
They sang ‘We shall not be moved’ and chanted call-and-response slogans including ‘We are here to reclaim this space’ and ‘No justice, no peace.’
‘Get out, James Comey! You’re not our homie!’ they shouted.
‘I love being black! I love the color of my skin!’ they yelled moments later.
Comey stood quietly for nearly 15 minutes, but ultimately chose to deliver his remarks in spite of the distraction.
One group of attendees were heard yelling at the protesters: ‘Let him speak!’
Comey said he preferred to have a ‘conversation’ where dissenting viewpoints were aired ‘back and forth and back and forth.’
‘And at the end of a conversation, we’re both smarter. I am here at Howard to try to get smarter, to try to be useful, to try and have healthy conversation.’
The protesters never gave up, interrupting Comey over and over with shouts of ‘Mic check!’ in the style created by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Bernard Richardson, who serves as Dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard, chided the students.
‘That’s not the Howard University way,’ he scolded.
‘I love the enthusiasm of young folks, but I wish they understood what a conversation is,’ Comey said.
He pointed to the protesters at one point in his speech, when he was trying to illustrate the foolishness of arguing with a closed mind.
In much of the world, he said, ‘it’s hard sometimes to find people who will listen with an attitude that they might actually be convinced of something.’
‘Instead, what happens in most of the real world and about four rows in this auditorium, is that people don’t listen at all. They just try to figure out what rebuttal they’re going to offer when you’re done speaking.’
‘They aren’t actually looking to learn anything about you or about what they think,’ he said.
The ‘resist’ group complained Friday on Twitter that under Comey, ‘the FBI heavily surveilled BLM [Black Lives Matter] activists and protests.’
Comey ‘coined the term “Ferguson Effect” to victim blame Black people and the Black Lives Matter movement,’ the group claimed.
That term was actually the creation of former St. Louis, Missouri police chief Sam Dotson.
Dotson argued that racial unrest after highly publicized police shootings of black men tended to make law enforcement officers less vigorous in their duties because they feared an unfair public backlash.
The Howard protest group also claimed on Twitter that Comey ‘referred to Black and Brown people as weeds that need to be pulled.’
That was a reference to a 2015 speech Comey gave at the University of Chicago Law School, where he described a program called ‘Weed and Seed’ that he helped run as a police officer in the slums of Richmond, Virginia.
‘We felt a tremendous urgency to try to save lives in the poor neighborhoods of Richmond,’ he said then.
‘We worked in part through a program called “Weed and Seed.” We worked hard to weed those neighborhoods by removing those who were strangling it, so that seeds could be planted to allow good things to grow and to fill that space.’
Comey referred to ‘the drug dealers, the predators, the gang bangers’ as the ‘weeds.’
The ‘Resist’ organizers released a statement in which they claimed Comey ‘represents an institution diametrically opposed to the interests of Black people domestically and abroad.’
‘The “Ferguson Effect,” for example, is an outright racist lie designed to undermine the Black Liberation Movement.’