Washington– Former FBI director James Comey was met with interruptions and demonstrations from student activists as he took the stage for Howard University’s Opening Convocation on Friday at a full-capacity Cramton Auditorium with over 1,000 people in attendance.
Shouts and chants of “Go home Comey, you are not our homie,” “no justice, no peace,” and “we shall not be moved” by more than 50 student activists and protestors overshadowed Comey, in which his appearance was his first public speech since he testified before Congress in June about his firing as FBI Director by President Donald Trump.
“I love the enthusiasm of the young folks," Comey said to the protestors before attempting to begin his speech. "I just wish they would understand what a conversation is.’’
While the majority of Comey’s speech was drowned out by the shouts and chants, his remarks focused on encouraging the students to make a difference through the difficulty of the real world. In his conclusion, Comey called on making obligations that involved to never failing to help those who follow them and the sound duty of giving back.
“My perspective has not changed…I’ve lived decades in the so-called ‘real world’ and I still think places like this [Howard] are part of the real world,” said Comey. “Howard University has always been different, that’s why I want to be a part of it.”
The disruption, led by a collective of student activists known as #HUResist, lasted during the entire duration of Comey’s speech once he was introduced by Howard President Wayne A.I. Frederick. In an official statement released by the organization, the group protested based on their criticism of Frederick and Howard’s administration in selecting Comey due to his alleged actions of dismissing racist state-sanctioned violence and alleged efforts to dismantle the Black Lives Matter movement.
“James Comey represents an institution diametrically opposed to the interests of black people domestically and abroad. While his tenure at the FBI has finished, his impact on our community remains,” said #HUResist in a statement. “The ‘Ferguson Effect,’ for example, is an outright racist lie designed to undermine the Black Liberation Movement. We will allways remain principled and stand tall in the face of anti-Blackness wherever it shows up. Furthermore, we challenge Howard University’s ties to the establishment at large and seek to create an environment in which the spirit of liberation prevails.”
For some in attendance, while they did respect the students right to protest, they didn’t necessarily agree in how student activist group did it.
“Initially when they started protesting, I thought it was cool with having their voice heard, until they started saying ‘F*ck James Comey’,” said David Eddings, a junior finance major from Somerset, New Jersey. “I thought it was kind of disrespectful and undermined that black people could have civil discourse and intellectual debate on a subject. Even when the pastor came up to try to calm them down, he even agreed to hear them out and have it turn it into a debate, but they still kept shouting…so it became unproductive.”
“I get why Comey is controversial, and maybe it was foolish of me to think it was going to be quiet, but this makes complete sense in a way because nothing in the country makes sense right now,” said Aramide Olorunyomi, a sophomore film major from Germantown, Maryland. “It’s not pretty and I hate to see this amount of negativity and disunity, but at the same time, it's all for the cause.”
Although met with some opposition during Howard’s opening convocation, Comey's appointment as the 2017-2018 Gwendolyn S. and Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy means this was just the first of several planned collaborations between Comey and the University. The former FBI director will lead and conduct five lectures featuring speakers that will touch on several topics.
According to Howard University, the King Chair was established to provide students access to experienced, senior public service executives who developed and advanced public policy initiatives. Comey will announce the topic of the lectures after consulting with student leaders and other campus stakeholders on topics relevant to the Howard community.