NAACP forum tackles 'crisis' in State Police, Etue
If not for a Facebook post by the leader of the Michigan State Police in which she shared a meme attacking NFL players who kneel during the national anthem, a forum drawing three dozen people on Saturday morning would not have been necessary, its organizer said.
"There is a crisis in our state," said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit Branch NAACP, referring not only to State Police chief Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue's social media post, which dominated the forum's discussion at the Northwest Activities Center, but also the dearth of minority troopers on the state police force.
"We believe Michigan can do better than this," he said, "but if we continue down this path, it will impede (state police's) ability to recruit blacks, Latinos, Arabs, women and others."
Etue has come under fire after she posted a meme on Facebook that said: “Who wins a football game has ZERO impact on our lives. Who fights for and defends our nation has every impact on our lives. We stand with the heroes, not a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates.”
Etue apologized and said the post was “offensive,” but said she won’t resign. She was suspended for five days for violating the state police’s social media policy over a post ridiculing “degenerate” professional football players for silent protests during the national anthem. The sanction could have been as light as a written reprimand, but critics called for her firing or resignation.
State Rep. Leslie Love, D-Detroit, representing the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus said of the protest that "I can't imagine a more peaceful way (to make a point). They didn't give the finger, they didn't turn their backs. They took a knee to say 'listen, what we've experienced is very real and we won't take it anymore.'"
Nabih Ayad, attorney and board member for the Arab-American Civil Rights League, asked: "If this is the kind of message (Etue) is sending, what does she really think, when she goes home in the evening and thinks about Arabs, African-Americans?"
Ayad and Anthony both expressed a belief that Michigan State Police figured the incident would eventually blow over.
"This is not going to go away," Ayad said. "We're not going to let it go."
Attorney Leonard Mungo, who said he has pending litigation against the State Police on the behalf of minority applicants who were denied employment, said he has represented black and white state troopers before in court.
"I've represented police at the local, state and even federal level," Mungo said. "What I can tell you is that these people are being failed by the leaders of the governmental agencies they work for."
Anthony said that Etue not only declined to participate in the forum, but declined to send anyone else from Michigan State Police.
But in a Nov. 6 letter, Michigan State Police offered to meet with the Detroit NAACP on Nov. 21 meeting at 2nd District headquarters -- the same building on Third Street that serves as Detroit Police and Detroit Fire headquarters. Etue, local commanders and recruiting staff would all attend, the letter said.
Lt. Mike Shaw, spokesman for the State Police Second District, said Saturday that a scheduling conflict with the forum. He said the agency has not yet received a response about the proposed Nov. 21 meeting.
"We know we have trouble recruiting minorities and we think that is the proper organization to help us with that," Shaw said.
"The moms and dads who are part of those groups can help us recruit minorities," Shaw said. "A lot of parents don't talk to their kids about careers in law enforcement."
Michigan State Police, on their own, can only do so much, Shaw said.
"We can only do so many community forums, we can only go to so many high schools on our end," Shaw said. "NAACP is one of those groups we'd like to work with, and when they talk about the different careers people can pursue, we hope they'll mention law enforcement."
Ellis Stafford, president of the Detroit chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement, or NOBLE, said that if state police had sent a representative, "they would've found no public lynching or woodshedding, but a giving of criticism, answers and solutions meant to improve their service."
Stafford said, though, that the problem is bigger than one person.
"If (Etue) left right now, the culture in the agency wouldn't change," said Stafford, a former state trooper.
Stafford spoke an "inherent problem" faced by Michigan State Police, who patrol a state of almost 10 million people: Geography.
"Troopers are widely dispersed across Michigan," Stafford said. "They can't always build rapport."
Another challenge to that rapport, Anthony mentioned, was the death of 15-year-old Demond Grimes in August. Grimes was riding an ATV on a Detroit street when a trooper allegedly deployed a Taser, which took effect on him. Grimes crashed into another vehicle and died. Grimes' family has filed a $50 million lawsuit against the state.
After Grimes' death, state police announced they'd no longer conduct patrols in the 9th Precinct for the time being. Grimes' death was about a month before Etue's post.
The forum also heard testimony from Linda Lewis, mother of Jourdan Lewis, a former Cass Tech football player before going on to All-American status for Michigan and drafted by the Dallas Cowboys where he is a starter.
Lewis' worlds collided when President Donald Trump during a speech in Alabama harshly criticized NFL playesr for not standing during the playing of the national anthem and demanded that team owners fire players who didn't.
When Jourdan Lewis called her after Trump's remarks, saying he wanted to take a knee, Linda was supportive.
"I let my kids make their own decisions, but tell them to consider the consequences," Lewis said. "Your needs come before your wants."
Lewis said that, given Jourdan's history in athletics, which started when he was just four-and-a-half, the taking of a knee is a sign of respect.
"In (youth) football, if someone got hurt, they took a knee, and they didn't get up until the kid got off the ground," Lewis said.
"So the knee was taken in reverence for who's been hurt?" Anthony said.
Lewis agreed with that interpretation.