Criticism mounts for State Police boss over anthem flap

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Democratic criticism of the Michigan State Police’s chief continued to mount Thursday, with 10 state representatives linking arms during the Pledge of Allegiance in a display of solidarity against racial injustice and the chief’s shared Facebook message.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Detroit criticized Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue after she posted a Facebook meme Sunday calling National Football League players “anti-American degenerates” for kneeling in protest during the National Anthem.

Duggan, in a joint statement with Evans, stopped short of calling for Etue’s resignation. A Gov. Rick Snyder spokeswoman said Wednesday the governor will not be asking Etue to resign, referring to Etue as an “outstanding public servant” who made a mistake and has apologized.

Duggan and Evans said Etue’s recent Facebook post illustrates a “lack of respect for the people she serves and the post she holds.”

“(W)hen the head of the Michigan State Police posts a message demeaning citizens for exercising rights guaranteed them by the constitution, it damages the credibility of a department charged with protecting those rights,” they said.

“Gov. Snyder should treat this as the serious breach of trust that it is and take the steps necessary to make sure that this type of disrespect from our state’s law enforcement leadership will not be tolerated.”

Conyers, the Detroit Democrat, called the comments of Etue “wrong-headed” and “unbefitting” an officer of the state.

“Michigan needs a Michigan State Police Director who understands the very real issue of racial injustice and the blatant disparities that African-Americans face within our criminal justice system and at the hands of some ill-willed law enforcement officers,” Conyers said in a statement.

Conyers, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said that, instead of deriding the protesters, Etue should have sought to address the reasons behind the demonstrations by working with police officers and agencies to improve relations with minority communities.

“If Etue cannot complete that mission, she should stand down,” Conyers said. “I strongly believe that no one should ever make the mistake that the fight for justice in America is anything less than an act of patriotism.”

A Conyers spokeswoman said he sees similarities between free-agent pro quarterback Colin Kaepernick – who was not signed by a team after his anthem protests last year – and Rosa Parks, who had trouble finding work after her 1955 protest that sparked the Montgomery bus boycott. When Parks later moved to Detroit, Conyers hired her to work for his office.

The meme Etue posted on her personal Facebook page refers to sports figures protesting the anthem as “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans.”

Members of the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus and other Democratic state lawmakers on Wednesday demanded that Snyder dismiss Etue, questioning her objectivity and understanding of what they said are symbolic protests against racial oppression and police brutality.

Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, who took part in the arm linking, said it was meant to show Michigan residents that they can stand up against top officials and invited GOP lawmakers to join them. Neeley said he and other Democrats will be asking Snyder and Etue for a formal meeting to discuss her social media comment.

“Racism is systemic,” said Neeley, a black lawmaker. “It’s institutionalized. It’s implicit and it’s explicit in many cases. But what we did today was not an offense to anyone.”

But at least one Republican was outraged by the display.

“When you have members disrespecting that, I think it calls into question their suitability for office,” said Rep. Tom Barrett, R-Potterville. “And if they’re not happy being here and they want to go protest something, perhaps they should do something else.”

Etue apologized late Tuesday amid the outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, Detroit Coalition Against Police Brutality and other 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.”

Republican President Donald Trump has stoked the controversy over anthem protests by calling on NFL team owners to fire any “son of a b----” that kneels during the National Anthem, calling it an affront to military veterans.

Jonathan Oosting and Michael Gerstein contributed.