Howard University student activists interrupted James Comey’s keynote convocation speech there late Friday morning, with protesters alternating between various chants of resistance such as “we shall not be moved” and “Black lives, they matter here!” At the heart of the student protest was the former FBI director’s endorsement of the so-called “Ferguson effect” that would eventually be widely debunked.
The audience made itself heard immediately after Comey started speaking by saying in part, “We are here to reclaim this space,” and “No justice, no peace,” NBC Washington reported.
Before Comey took the stage, students made their defiant, collective presence felt in the hallway outside the auditorium by chanting “Get out James Comey, you ain’t my homie!” Comey would ultimately deliver his address in spite of continuous chanting from the audience.
A number of Black lives were lost under questionable circumstances while Comey led the FBI, including the high-profile killings of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner.
Many of those deaths were recorded on video before they eventually went viral. Comey blamed that trend on the “Ferguson effect,” a reference to the suburban St. Louis community at the center of Brown’s killing by a White police officer.
“There’s a perception that police are less likely to do the marginal additional policing that suppresses crime — the getting out of your car at 2 in the morning and saying to a group of guys, ‘Hey, what are you doing here?’” Comey said last year.
Aside from the other deaths, Howard students also reminded Comey about more Black people who they said were killed by the FBI, according to one user on Twitter.
Students may have also been protesting Comey for the timing of his announcement last year to Congress that the FBI found new information surrounding an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of personal email while she was secretary of state. Comey made the announcement shortly before last year’s presidential election, and many people believed that helped Donald Trump win.
Howard hired Comey was hired last month to lead a lecture series on the HBCU’s Washington, D.C., campus. When he accepted the position to become Howard’s King Endowed Chair in Public Policy, Comey seemingly foreshadowed Friday’s events.
“Howard has a longstanding history of being a vibrant academic community and the perfect place to have rich dialogue on many of the most pressing issues we face today,” Comey said last month. “I look forward to contributing to this remarkable institution and engaging students and faculty alike.”
It looks like he got what he wanted, and then some.