Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Wednesday resisted calls to fire or seek the resignation of the head of the Michigan State Police after she shared a social media post calling National Football League players “degenerates” for kneeling in silent protest during the National Anthem.
Members of the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus are among those demanding Snyder fire Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue over the “appalling” Facebook post, questioning her objectivity and understanding of what they called symbolic protests against racial oppression and police brutality.
But Snyder will not be asking Etue to resign, spokeswoman Anna Heaton said in an email, calling the state police director an “outstanding public servant” who made a mistake and has apologized.
Etue’s Facebook post, a meme she shared on her personal page, refers to sports figures protesting the anthem as “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans.”
It sparked a heated debate Wednesday on the floor of the Michigan Senate, where Democrats called for Etue to step down but Republicans defended her right to free speech.
“It’s a divisive time in this country, and we all have our personal beliefs,” said Sen. Ian Conyers, D-Detroit. “However, members of law enforcement and the military are held to a particularly higher standard. In these sensitive times, I think we’re starting to believe that culture starts at the top.”
Etue, who had shared the post on her personal Facebook page Sunday, apologized late Tuesday amid growing outcry from Michigan activists and advocacy groups.
“It was a mistake to share this message on Facebook, and I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended,” she wrote. “I will continue my focus on unity at the Michigan State Police and in communities across Michigan.”
The apology appeared to satisfy the Republican governor.
“The Colonel said she made a mistake and publicly apologized,” Heaton said. “She has served with distinction as an outstanding public servant for decades. The governor will not be asking her to resign.”
American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan executive director Kary Moss said Etue’s “disastrous apology” was not enough. Immediate resignation would “send an unequivocal message that racial bias in policing will not be tolerated and that there are consequences,” Moss said in a statement.
Nation controversy hits state
The controversy over Etue’s post comes as the public debate rages about NFL players taking a knee when the “Star-Spangled Banner” is performed as a way to protest perceived injustices facing the African-American community.
Republican President Donald Trump blasted protesting players Friday, calling on team owners to fire any “son of a b----” that kneels during the National Anthem, calling it an affront to military veterans.
Etue is “a woman of honor and integrity,” said state Sen. Patrick Colbeck, a Canton Township Republican who is running for governor. He said players kneeling at the start of NFL games are protesting the National Anthem and the flag.
“They may be unearthing certain issues that need to be brought to our attention, I get it, but if you’re going to protest, don’t protest a symbol of our unity,” Colbeck said. “Don’t protest a symbol of our national integrity.”
Black Americans are “angry” and “incensed,” said state Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, hammering his fist on a lectern during a fiery speech defending the NFL protesters. He noted the recent death of 15-year-old Damon Grimes in Detroit, who was shot with a Taser by a state police trooper while driving an all-terrain vehicle illegally on the road and refusing an order to stop.
“We aren’t protesting the flag,” said Young, who is running for Detroit mayor. “We thank God for the flag. Lots of black folks have sacrificed for the flag. If it wasn’t for black slavery, there wouldn’t be a flag.”
State Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican and former sheriff, said both Etue and football players have a First Amendment right to express their views.
“I personally don’t think you should take a knee unless you’re doing it in prayer, but I will predict if millionaire players continue to take a knee during the anthem, the NFL will soon be known as ‘Not for Long.’”
Jones stressed the fact that Etue shared the meme on her personal Facebook page, not a page meant for public consumption.
State Police accused of bias
But Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Southfield Democrat and a former Marine who served in the Vietnam War, said he learned more about Etue because her post has been “outed,” noting that he generally likes her and thinks she has done good things in her jobs.
“We have now a colonel, the leader of the state police, that has shown a distinct bias towards a group of citizens in the state of Michigan,” said Gregory, a former Wayne County Sheriff’s detective. “So my question is, how can she continue to do this job when she’s shown a bias?”
Detroit Branch NAACP President Wendell Anthony questioned why the head of the state police would even wade into the NFL debate when her department has bigger concerns, including what he called a “very checkered history when it comes to the recruitment and retention of minorities and women in their department.”
As of late March, Michigan’s enlisted state police force was more than 88 percent white and more than 90 percent male. The 1,875 enlisted officers included 121 African-Americans, 47 Hispanics and 14 Asians or Pacific Islanders. There were 187 women.
Etue testified before lawmakers this spring that the department is emphasizing minority recruitment and actively seeking trooper school candidates in areas such as Metro Detroit, Muskegon Heights and Benton Harbor.
Democratic candidate for governor Abdul El-Sayed on Wednesday penned an “open letter” to Snyder demanding Etue’s “immediate dismissal.”
“Her comments smack of a long, racist history of insulting black Americans who stand against racism and targeting their intelligence,” said El-Sayed, former director of the Detroit health department.
Detroit Lions owner Martha Ford last weekend condemned Trump’s calls to fire players who protest during the National Anthem. She locked arms with standing players Sunday at Ford Field. Several team players also knelt.
In response, GOP activist and Trump suporter Brian Pannebecker is organizing a protest outside the Lions’ next home game on Oct. 8, promising signs “shaming the players, and the owners, who allow the players to disrespect the national anthem and US flag.”
Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican also running for governor, released a statement Monday addressing the player protests.
“People have fought and died to protect America's freedom,” said Schuette, who has not weighed in on the subsequent controversy over Etue.
“That is why I stand for the National Anthem, and place my hand over my heart and salute our flag. I believe people should stand to honor the best nation on the face of the earth. When we do that, it sends a message to the whole world that we stand united, not divided, as Americans.”