Detroit legislator apologizes for racial slurs

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
State Rep. Bettie Cook Scott, D-Detroit

A Detroit legislator apologized after making racial slurs against a then-rival Asian-American candidate for state Senate.

State Rep. Bettie Cook Scott apologized in a statement issued Thursday after liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan revealed this week that Scott referred to state Rep. Stephanie Chang as a “ching-chong” and told voters at precincts during the Aug. 7 primary that she was disgusted “seeing Black people holding signs for these Asians and not supporting their own people."

Scott and Chang, both from Detroit, were two of six Democratic candidates running for state Senate District 1. Chang won the primary race with nearly 50 percent of the vote.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit.

“Those are not the kinds of comments that should be made nor are they the kind of comments I would normally make,” Scott said in a statement issued through her lawyer Bill Noakes on Thursday. “I humbly apologize to Rep. Chang and to her husband, Mr. Gray, and to the broader Asian American community.

“We live in a time of increasing divisiveness,” she said. “As a state representative, I should never do anything to contribute to an atmosphere of divisiveness and for that, I am terribly sorry. I look forward to meeting with Rep. Chang to express my apologies directly to her as soon as she’s able to meet with me.”

More than a dozen community groups and the Michigan Democratic Party called for Scott to apologize after her statements became public this week.

“We expect better from anyone who wants to call themselves a Michigan Democrat,” party chairman Brandon Dillon said in a statement Thursday. “Bettie Cook Scott needs to apologize to the entire Asian American community. If an individual doesn’t share our fundamental values of tolerance, decency, and respect, they should find another party."

But the state's Department of Civil Rights said Scott's apology isn't enough. The agency investigates and resolves discrimination complaints and works to prevent discrimination.

“Rep. Scott’s apology and plan to meet directly with Rep. Chang is a good initial step,” Agustin Arbulu, the department's director, said Friday in a statement. “But an apology alone is not enough. Rep. Scott also needs to commit to a guided learning process to address her unfortunate behavior so that she can adequately serve all of her constituents, regardless of their race or ethnicity, whether as a member of the Michigan legislature or in any other capacity.”

Arbulu suggested the legislator and her staff get training in cultural competency, discriminatory harassment, racial equity and unconscious bias.

“It is important that Rep. Scott take concrete steps that go well beyond a nicely-worded statement in addressing the serious problems her words have revealed,” Arbulu said.

Chang said Thursday she plans to meet with Scott early next week.

“It’s not about me,” Chang said. “It really is about the comments that she made to Asian-Americans and the community more broadly.”

Scott made the statements Aug. 7 at Bethany Lutheran Church in Detroit, where she called one of Chang’s volunteers an immigrant and said, “You don’t belong here,” according to Progress Michigan. Later in the day at East English Village Preparatory Academy, Scott was overheard discouraging voters from voting for "the ching-chong."

Latisha Johnson was at East English Village Preparatory Academy on Aug. 7 as a candidate for the state House District 2 seat when she saw one of Chang’s volunteers confront Scott. She said Scott initially denied saying anything offensive.

But as the volunteer left, Johnson said Scott said: “I told people not to vote for that ching-chong.”  

“It was very immature, the way the situation took place and what was said,” Johnson said.

(517) 371-3661