Protesters want 'racist' Shelby Twp. police chief fired
Shelby Township — The group was small, but the message was clear: township police chief Robert J. Shelide must go.
About 20 people gathered Monday outside the township municipal offices on Van Dyke Avenue to call for township trustees to fire Shelide, who is on a leave of absence pending an investigation into inflammatory social media posts that have been attributed to him.
In one case, Shelide — posting under an alias — called for "body bags" for anti-police brutality protesters he dubbed "vicious subhumans." Another comment seemed to champion violence against protesters: "Trump threatening to deploy the military. I have a better idea. Unleash real cops and let them take care of the barbarians. I promise it will be over in 24 hours."
A virtual township meeting Friday drew more than 100 participants, most speaking against Shelide; the board is slated to take the matter up again at its 7 p.m. Tuesday meeting.
"We want to send a message to the seven members of the trustee board," said the Rev. W.J. Rideout III, founder of the group Defenders of Truth and Justice, which helped organize Monday's protest. "We're not just going to give him a slap on the wrist. ... If you keep this racist chief of police in office, we'll be back out here."
Already, organizers have vowed to gather again at an anti-racism rally in the same location at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Jackie DeBeau, 55, has helped organize the events because she was "disgusted and distraught" about Shelide's statements. The 15-year township resident, who now lives in neighboring Macomb Township, said she sprang into action after she called Trustee John Vermeulen and got what she considered an unsatisfactory response.
Some participants on Monday questioned why it has taken so long for township officials to act. Shelide has been on leave since June 4.
"If (the trustees) can be this indecisive about something this obvious and glaring, what are they doing?" DeBeau said.
Shelide has apologized, saying in a June 4 statement: "While an apology is insufficient and an insult to the gravity of my comments, I humbly and respectfully ask for the courtesy of forgiveness to those I have offended, to my department and more importantly to those I am sworn to serve."
Demonstrators on Monday chanted the refrains that have sounded in communities across the country as millions have taken to the street to protest the killing of George Floyd at the hands of a now-former Minneapolis police officer.
"Black lives matter," the group shouted.
"No more sheep dawg," they said — a reference to the pseudonym under which Shelide reportedly posted.
Participants took to a megaphone to share their own stories of experiencing or witnessing racism and police brutality.
Shelby Knisel, 20, of Warren, said she is demonstrating because she fears for her young niece and nephew, who are people of color. Knisel, who is white, grew emotional as she recounted attending a recent protest in Detroit and being hit by rubber bullets fired by police officers: "I was running for my life and I thought I was going to die."
Another demonstrator, an African American woman, recounted an experience she had with Shelide, when he worked for the Southfield police, where she said she tried to file a report but Shelide instead threatened to arrest her.
Thomas Barnes, an organizer with We the People Michigan, called on the demonstrators to begin lining up candidates to challenge local elected officials in the next election: "You want to defund the police? Put your name on the ballot."
Several of the demonstrators also shared stories about witnessing racism in Shelby Township, which according to census data is 90.3% white and 2.2% black.
Beth Edberg, 23, of Warren, who is white, said classmates in Utica Community Schools made racist comments about the city, which is 18.5% black: "The racism in this township is very prevalent."
Alison Grim, 36, who grew up on the border of Macomb and Shelby townships and attended Eisenhower High School, remembers childhood friends using the n-word: "Where were they getting that from?" She would like to see independent oversight committees established to monitor police in every community.
Shelide has been police chief since 2015. He previously worked as a police officer in Detroit and Southfield, and is a past president of the Southeast Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police, The Detroit News previously reported.
Tuesday's board of trustee meeting will be held via video conference. Questions and comments can be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org until the end of the meeting. Information about how to join the meeting can be found at shelbytwp.org.
Trustees will decide whether disciplinary action against Shelide is warranted.
In the protesters' view, at least, nothing short of Shelide's termination is sufficient.
"He sounds like a Ku Klux Klan (member), in a uniform, with a badge and a gun," said Rideout.
He added: "When there is racism and discrimination, there ought to be elimination. The chief of police needs to be eliminated."