Bankole: Duggan fails to rise as racial healer

Bankole Thompson
Mayor Mike Duggan gives his sixth State of the City address Tuesday night

The theologian Albert Schweitzer in his timeless dictum says, “the purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

That means leaders — whether they were elected to office or not — are not only defined by the number of policy prescriptions they offer to confront the economic challenges of their city. They are not only remembered for the many rousing speeches they give to win others to their side to show that they are on top of the job. Leaders are also defined by the kind of compassion and empathy they demonstrate towards those who are hurting in times of crisis.  

That is why Mayor Mike Duggan owes a public apology on behalf of the city to Ariel Moore, an African-American woman, who was pulled over in a dangerously cold weather and blatantly humiliated by a white Detroit police officer, Gary Steele, who has since been fired. The actions of Steele, still fresh in the minds of most residents, warranted some sort of a public atonement from the city’s top leader for that kind of unacceptable behavior that took place in the days leading up to Black History Month.

In fact, the officer appeared to make mockery of black history as he recorded her on social media walking home in the cold. It was painful to watch a member of the Detroit Police Department engage in a behavior that hearkens back to events that led to the 1967 racial unrest.  

There was no better platform for Duggan to make a compassionate, forceful and sincere public declaration that the actions of Steele do not reflect the character of the men and women in blue who are sworn to protect Detroiters than during the State of the City address.

Because the state of the city is only as good as the people who pledged under oath to serve residents and guarantee their safety. This is even more necessary after it was reported that Steele, a former member of the 6th Precinct, made a similar video in 2017, and that there are some simmering racial issues concerning that particular precinct. 

But Duggan completely failed to mention the issue. He could have opened his speech with that and set the tone as the city’s leader in terms of what his expectations are for those who ought to guarantee the security of residents. This glaring omission, an apparent racial dark spot on the police department, which dominated the news for a while and made national headlines, should have offered Duggan an opportunity to rise up to the challenge as a racial healer.

Duggan need not be a card-carrying member of the NAACP and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition to wade into complex racial issues affecting his city and to be able to walk away as a credible negotiator. All he needs to do is to show concern, and the willingness to tackle these issues and speak out when incidents like the one involving the fired officer happened.

It’s evident that Detroit’s police force has some serious racial issues which Duggan hasn’t fully addressed publicly. For example, in 2017, this newspaper reported a “growing racial problem,” based on an internal report from the department that surveyed black officers speaking out about alleged discriminatory practices from their white supervisors.

Duggan should realize that he is not only called upon to be a political leader. But as Detroit’s No. 1 elected official, he also has some moral responsibilities over issues that have serious racial and cultural overtones. If the mayor doesn’t know where to begin, he can look to history for precedent including the work of former mayor Coleman A. Young.

He can also look to other cities like New York, where the mayor and the police chief are frequently before the cameras together as they jointly tackle any and all emerging racial problems.

In Detroit’s case, Duggan seems to leave that responsibility to police chief James Craig alone. But Craig didn’t ask Detroiters for their vote. The mayor did.

Presiding over the affairs of the city is more than just touting a fiscally sound budget and rolling out a lot of private sector initiatives with little from the city’s own coffers. There is also moral leadership in politics and it is needed when blacks are humiliated in police encounters.

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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