WASHINGTON — In an unusually frank and personal speech, FBI Director James B. Comey on Thursday addressed “hard truths” about policing, acknowledging racial bias among law enforcement officers and lamenting a “disconnect” between police agencies and communities of color.

“We are at a crossroads,” Comey said. “We can choose to live our everyday lives, raising our families and going to work, hoping someone, somewhere, will do something to ease the tension, to smooth over the conflict. Or we can choose to have an open and honest discussion about what our relationship is today.”

In giving the speech, delivered to students at Georgetown University, Comey placed himself at the heart of the politically charged debate on race, policing and use of force that has so often riven minority communities during the Obama administration.

President Obama has spoken out several times about allegations of police brutally against minorities. In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder sparked a controversy with a speech in which he said the United States was a “nation of cowards” when it came to discussing race.

Comey’s remarks were perhaps less provocative but still remarkably candid for a director of the FBI. They also did not come without risk, given the backlash by police across the country to previous statements by political figures about racial bias in law enforcement.

Police “often work in environments where a hugely disproportionate percentage of street crime is committed by young men of color,” Comey said.

“Something happens to people of goodwill working in that environment,” he added. “After years of police work, officers often can’t help but be influenced by the cynicism they feel.”

A police officer, whether “white or black,” has a different reaction to two young black men on the side of a street than he does to two white men, Comey said, because the black men “look like so many others the officer has locked up.”

At one point in his remarks, Comey cited the song “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” from the Broadway musical “Avenue Q” in making the case that everyone makes judgments based on race.