Unless Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue has a consistent pattern of undermining the humanity and advancement of people of color within and outside the ranks of the agency, all persons of goodwill and good neighborliness should accept her apology.
That said, her Facebook comments calling athletes “ungrateful, anti-American degenerates” for protesting the national anthem, as part of a larger demonstration against police brutality, were offensive and morally reprehensible.
Those are not the comments expected of the leader of the state’s premier law enforcement agency; the No. 1 police officer in the state. Regardless of how she feels — and she is entitled to her opinions — about the continued protest over the national anthem, Etue should have kept her insensitive and bigoted feelings to herself.
Why not? She is sworn to protect and serve all Michiganians without fear or favor, and regardless of ethnic background or skin color. Her tea party-type comments on social media laced with strong nationalistic sentiments suggest that she is directly opposed to the call for racial justice in the criminal justice system.
If that is the case, then her standing is greatly undermined in the black community and communities of color that are reeling from incidents of police brutality.
How can she be trusted as a conscientious leader who will be fair and ensure that justice is served in cases involving the Michigan State Police, such as the recent case of 15-year-old Damon Grimes who died in an encounter with a state trooper on Detroit’s east side while allegedly driving an ATV illegally?
Despite the justifiable outrage against her remarks, Etue’s action presents an opportunity to engage the state police director on a number of issues affecting different segments of the community, especially minorities.
We know the agency has had a number of challenges regarding racial diversity within its ranks as well as discrimination lawsuits filed by some black troopers. Darzeil Hall and Lamarr Johnson won a $5.2 million jury verdict in 2013 against the agency after the two said they were rejected for promotion because of their race. The verdict was upheld last year by the Michigan Court of Appeals.
It is time to convene a dialogue with the Michigan State Police over these issues. We need to see more black troopers on the highways. It is not enough to continue to demand her resignation — which is highly unlikely given that Gov. Rick Snyder has indicated that is not the route he will go.
The focus now should be on how to convert this crisis into an opportunity for meaningful inclusion in the agency.
The department’s own numbers as of 2016 show that out of a force of 1,779 troopers, only 104 are black. That is just about 6 percent.
If Etue, the agency’s first female director, is serious about having a more racially diverse police force, she should begin a tour in communities of color right away to start a conversation on how to achieve this. It has to be an intentional dialogue and not just a matter of convenience or a PR tactic to make the issue over her remarks go away. And she should start the process in Detroit.
After all, if we can get the state police to see the advantages of a diverse workforce, and act on the need to recruit more African-Americans, then we would have made some progress.
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