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'You're Not Our Homey,' Howard University Protesters Tell Ex-FBI Director James Comey

If James Comey was looking for a smooth landing in his new job after his rocky departure from the FBI, he may not have found it as a lecturer at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Comey, whose firing by President Trump in May set off a political firestorm, delivered the keynote address Friday at the historically black college's opening convocation. Just as he took the podium to speak, protesters at the back of the auditorium stood up and, with fists raised high, began singing the civil rights song "We Shall Not Be Moved."

They also chanted "no justice, no peace," and "get out James Comey, you're not our homey."

Students used a Facebook page and a Twitter account, both titled HUResist, to help organize the protests against Comey and his new position at the university. Protesters accused him of working against black communities during his time as FBI director.

One example: Comey's comments in 2015 about the so-called Ferguson effect, the intense scrutiny of police actions that some in the law enforcement world said followed the killing of a black man outside St. Louis, Mo., and the increasing use of video to capture interactions between police and black communities across the country. The scrutiny was causing police to be timid, according to some, which was fueling an increase in crime. That notion caused an uproar and President Obama's White House disagreed with Comey's assessment.

On Friday, Comey initially appealed to the Howard University protesters, saying: "I hope you'll stay to listen to what I have to say. I just listened to you for five minutes."

After waiting about 15 minutes for the chanting to subside, Comey decided to deliver his speech over the protesters.

"I love the enthusiasm of the young folks," he said. "I just wish they would understand what a conversation is. A conversation is where you speak and I listen, and then you speak and I listen and we go 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 conversations."

In his speech, he stressed what he called the importance of dialogue and listening to people who hold different opinions. He closed by addressing the incoming Class of 2021, telling them: "Welcome to Howard, I'm honored to be here with you and I look forward to adult conversations about what is right and what is true."

Last month, the university announced Comey's position as the school's King Endowed Chair in Public Policy. The former FBI director is donating all of his $100,000 compensation for the position to a scholarship fund for students from foster homes.

Comey and his wife have acted as emergency foster parents for young children.

Comey's new work with Howard appears to be connected to a relationship he has developed with the university's president, Wayne A.I. Frederick, whom Comey invited to speak earlier this year to the bureau's employees as part of an effort to diversify the FBI's overwhelmingly white and male workforce.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.