Black leaders await change after MSP controversy
Lansing — Black leaders who demanded Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue’s resignation over a controversial Facebook post say they still are waiting to see promised changes more than two months after Gov. Rick Snyder suspended her pay for five days instead.
Snyder’s office says a series of internal reviews and reforms are underway across state government after Etue stirred controversy by sharing a post that called football players who knelt during the National Anthem to protest inequality and police brutality “degenerates” and “millionaire ingrates who hate America.”
Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony has sat down with Snyder to discuss those plans, but he told The Detroit News he is frustrated by how long it has taken to schedule a promised meeting with Etue, which is still not set in stone but could happen late next month.
“It’s been very disappointing,” said Anthony, suggesting Etue initially offered to meet at state police headquarters in Dimondale, near Lansing, rather than come to meet him and other community leaders in Detroit.
“If you’re really concerned about changing the culture of the department, why would you invite the people you say you’re trying to change the relationship with to a location that has nothing do with that effort?” he said. “Ain’t nobody been Tasered to death in Dimondale.”
But Etue in a statement released to The Detroit News on Tuesday night said she has “always been willing to have a private meeting with Reverend Dr. Anthony to discuss his concerns” and has offered to come to Detroit to do so.
“I've never asked him to come to Dimondale to meet with me,” she said. “My first offer was for a meeting on November 21 at our Second District Headquarters, which is in the city of Detroit. He was not able to attend on this date and due to scheduling conflicts for both parties. It has taken several weeks since then to secure a date that is mutually agreeable. It would be inaccurate and unfair to place the delay and scheduling challenges entirely on the MSP.”
Etue shared the “degenerates” post on her personal Facebook page in September during the midst of a national debate over NFL protests, sparking accusations of racism by black activists and advocates. It came about two months after a Detroit teen was Tasered in late August after ignoring a state police trooper’s command to stop his all-terrain vehicle, leading to his death.
Etue publicly apologized for her social media post and continued to privately apologize to staff and citizens who had reached out to complain or praise her, according to emails obtained by The Detroit News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
“I never had any intention with my FB post to bring race into this,” Etue said in a Sept. 29 response email to a U.S. Navy veteran. “I believe everyone should stand for our National Anthem, but as you say the freedom allows also for some to take a knee.”
Facing calls to resign, Etue described the situation as a “nightmare” that felt like a “very dark valley.”
The emails show that Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton helped Etue craft her initial statement in which she called the post a mistake and apologized “to anyone who was offended,” which did little to stem criticism.
Etue also apologized in a staff-wide email and updated state police employees after her Oct. 5 meeting with the Legislative Black Caucus, which was among the groups that demanded she step down or be fired.
“It’s clear to me that we need to continue to engage in discussion about the social injustices that exist within the communities we serve,” Etue wrote after the meeting. “There is work that needs to be done and I know MSP can make a positive difference.”
Snyder seeks reforms
In Snyder’s Oct. 19 announced suspension of Etue’s pay because her post violated the state police social media policy, the Republican governor expressed “full faith” in her leadership but also promised a series of reviews and reforms across state government.
The Legislative Black Caucus is hoping to meet with Snyder early next year to discuss the steps, but the administration says they are already well underway.
The state is partnering with the Ross Initiative in Sports for Equality, an effort founded by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen M Ross that has engaged several Detroit sports figures. They are planning community forums with law enforcement officials, professional athletes and neighborhood schools, said Snyder spokesman Ari Adler.
“The hope is to influence positive change by influencing dialogues and improving relationships with communities around the state,” he said.
The Michigan departments of Civil Rights and Civil Service are also reviewing cultural awareness and sensitivity training guidelines for all state employees, Adler said. A work group has met several times to develop new social media policies for all state employees, starting with department directors and cabinet members.
Snyder, who joined Etue at the most recent trooper graduation on Nov. 30, said he thinks she’s “worked hard” to restore trust and rebuild relationships with communities of color since her pay suspension.
“It’s a continuing process,” he said. “It’s not just about the colonel herself, but we all need to work harder on how we can understand each other better in these challenging days. So I look forward to doing that statewide, about how we can have dialogue from all corners of state government on how we can do better with our citizens.”
But black leaders say they still want to see more from Etue.
Anthony said the Detroit NAACP invited her to attend a Nov. 11 town hall in Detroit focused on the “current state” of the Michigan State Police, but she did not show. Anthony is also still working with her and staff to finalize details of the long-planned meeting he wants to be held in Detroit.
“It’s been a real petty kind of an exchange, not reflective of someone who was in a leadership position of such an important department that’s under fire,” he said.
Since taking her post, Etue has met with various black leaders and stakeholders, state police spokeswoman Shanon Banner said, including the black caucus and a group of pastors from Detroit.
“Colonel Etue remains willing to engage in productive dialogue with anyone interested in helping to improve police-community relations in our state,” she said.
Black leaders who urged Etue’s firing have mostly moved on from those calls and say they are now focused on making sure the controversy spurs change.
“We’re beyond that now. (Snyder) made his decision,” said state Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint. “I don’t want to wage war, but he made some commitments that he was going to try to diversify more departments, not only MSP, and have a better way of thinking about the way they engage communities of color.”
Snyder indicated that he plans to re-appoint Etue next year to serve as state police director through the remainder of his term. State Sen. Vincent Gregory, a Lathrup Village Democrat and former police detective, said he hopes Snyder will reconsider and give someone else a chance to lead the department.
Etue also acknowledged her “misstep” late last month at an MSU trooper recruit school graduation ceremony in Lansing. The 127-member graduating class included 111 white, 10 black, three Hispanic and three mixed-race troopers, reflecting the department’s ongoing struggle to recruit minorities.
Etue met with the recruits shortly after her Facebook post made headlines, Banner said. The chief talked to them then about “the importance of taking ownership for mistakes” and “working to make things right,” she said.
Not counting the new graduates, more than 89 percent of all state troopers are white, according to department statistics. Less than 6 percent are black.
Etue and MSP say they had already initiated new programs designed to increase diversity by changing how new troopers are assigned, prioritizing post placements near their hometowns, and re-establishing a cadet program for young people in urban areas.
The goal is to keep youth “engaged with our agency and exposed to the law enforcement profession until they are old enough to attend a recruit school,” Banner said.
But the lack of trooper diversity in the latest graduating class — which was 87 percent white — was noticed by Willie Hampton of Detroit, an African-American whose niece was among the graduates Etue addressed.
“I think in her future planning, she should consider that on the dais there wasn’t any representation of the citizens of Michigan,” said Hampton, noting Etue and other state officials on stage for the ceremony were also white. “And they have to recruit more minorities.”