Former Secretary of State Colin Powell weighed in on America’s ongoing struggles with race on Sunday, saying he was “not that surprised” by reports of racism in local police departments and asking law enforcement officials to do more fight against prejudice.
Appearing on ABC’s This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Colin Powell, the country’s first African American Secretary of State, was speaking about the historical context surrounding President Obama’s recent speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights march in Selma, Alabama. After expressing concerns about the negative effects of controversial voter ID laws on minority groups, Powell was asked by Stephanopoulos to comment on a new report by the Department of Justice that claims to provide ample evidence of widespread racial bias within the Police Department and local courts in Ferguson, Missouri.
“I was shocked but not that surprised, frankly, George,” Powell said. “I know these things have existed in other parts of our country. This shouldn’t have been that great a surprise to any of us.”
Powell then addressed local law enforcement agencies across the country, asking them to reexamine their motives and methods to ensure they are not inherently discriminatory.
“It’s not throughout the country, but [what] we have to do now then is for all of the police departments, all of the mayors and county and other officials throughout the country, take a look in the mirror and see what you’re doing,” he said. “Are you really arresting people just so you can get the money needed to run the government? That’s not right. And are you doing it in a discriminatory manner so that African Americans, Hispanic Americans and folks in the lower income levels of the society are paying the price in order to sustain your government or the police force? We also have to teach every police force that you have a responsibility to make sure that you are operating in a proper manner. Try to use nonlethal means wherever possible.”
Powell concluded with advice for black youth who are stopped by police, urging them to remain calm under pressure — even if they have done nothing wrong.
“We also have to tell our young people when you’re stopped by a police officer, stop and listen carefully and do not argue or fight,” he said. “Let it resolve itself. Especially if you’ve done nothing. If you have done something, arguing or fighting with the police officer will just add another charge.”
Powell’s advice spoke directly to the content of the Department of Justice’s report, which highlighted several instances where police officers approached African Americans without probable cause. The report also noted that while black people make up 67 of Ferguson’s population, they were involved in 93 percent of arrests, received 90 percent of tickets, and represented 85 percent of traffic stops from 2012 to 2014.