NAACP: Etue a symbol of State Police’s cultural racism

George Hunter
The Detroit News

The Detroit Branch of the NAACP and civil rights attorneys on Tuesday renewed their criticism of Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue after she shared a Facebook meme critical of pro football players who kneel during the National Anthem.

The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the local NAACP branch, said during a press conference at the group’s headquarters that Etue is symbolic of a culture of racism within Michigan State Police.

“We think (Etue) should resign, but it doesn’t end with her resignation,” Anthony said. “If you put another person in that seat, you still have to address the issues of racism within the state police. She should resign, but that’s one issue. The other issue is that the policies and programs have to resign. That’s what needs to change.”

The statement came on a day when Michigan Legislative Black Caucus leaders met with Gov. Rick Snyder, who has stood by Etue and asked her to continue through the end of 2018.

State police spokesman Lt. Michael Shaw said Tuesday’s press conference was “35 minutes of political grandstanding.”

“What a wasted opportunity,” Shaw said. “They could have invited the district commander to sit down and talk about how we can make the department more diverse. But we didn’t get that opportunity. Not one phone call.”

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.”

State police are investigating whether Etue violated department policy by posting the meme on her personal Facebook page. Possible sanctions range from a written reprimand to a five-day suspension.

Snyder met Tuesday afternoon with leadership of the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus, which met with Etue last week and continues to call on Snyder to fire her.

“The governor needs to make a decision,” said Rep. Sheldon Neeley, a Flint Democrat who chairs the caucus. “We are not going to act as subordinates in this process, because our constituents are not subordinates.”

Neeley said Snyder, in his meeting with black lawmakers, did not make any “definitive statements” about Etue’s fate or potential sanctions against her. The caucus will withhold further recommendations until he does, Neeley he told The Detroit News.

He is urging swift resolution of the internal state police probe into Etue’s social media post.

“We know that she violated the procedures, and we know it was conduct unbecoming of an officer,” Neeley said. “We have more of a divided state now as a byproduct of her statements. We have to heal our community, and we have to do so very quickly.”

Anthony criticized the state police because he said the proportion of minorities in the department has dropped from 12.5 percent in 1993, when a federal consent judgment ended, to 6.4 percent in 2017.

As of late March, Michigan’s enlisted state police force was more than 88 percent white and more than 90 percent male.

“This is a problem,” he said. “We’re here today because steps must be taken to correct this pattern.”

When asked about a recurring complaint by law enforcement officials about the low pool of minorities applying for police jobs, Anthony asked: “With this kind of culture, would you want to apply? Come on, now.”

Shaw said the NAACP leader isn’t helping create solutions.

“I would have liked to hear Wendell Anthony say that law enforcement is a good career choice, it’s a good way to serve the community, and here’s what we’re going to do to try to get more minorities to apply,” he said.

“They’re painting police with the same broad brush they ask everyone not to paint them with.

“If they have some solutions other than firing people and only hiring people because of the color of their skin, we’re willing to entertain any notion they might have.”

Darnell Blackburn, a former police officer and president of Be the Change, an organization that tries to recruit more minorities into law enforcement careers, said it’s a challenge convincing young African Americans to become cops.

“As an African-American man and former law enforcement officer, I can see this from both sides,” said Blackburn, a former Auburn Hills and Michigan State University officer. “There’s a stigma in the African-American community against the police, which is why I think departments are having trouble recruiting minority candidates.

“It’s not just a racial or ethnic issue,” Blackburn said. “Attracting female candidates is a challenge as well. This is also a challenge in many other industries; higher education has trouble attracting minorities.”

After Tuesday’s press conference, an NACCP employee passed out to the media copies of an Oct. 3 letter to Snyder asking to meet with him to discuss the issue. Snyder is set to meet this week with members of Michigan’s Legislative Black Caucus after the lawmakers met with Etue last week.

Anthony added at Tuesday’s press briefing: “We have asked the governor to sit down and ... discuss the future of the director as well as the department — its policies, programs and recruitment practices. We further believe that our congressional representatives need to look very closely at the Michigan State Police.”

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, spoke briefly at Tuesday’s press conference, but focused on immigration issues and did not address the state police.

Staff Writer Jonathan Oosting contributed

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Twitter: @GeorgeHunter_DN