Bankole: Detroit police face racial reckoning
It’s one thing to be racist. It’s another thing to act on it. That is why the alleged racist actions of two recently fired Detroit police officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison detailed in a Tuesday morning press conference by police chief James Craig, are not only frightening but dangerous to the growth and stability of the city.
According to Craig, both Steele and Garrison, veterans of the police force who worked at the 6th Precinct appeared to have orchestrated a plan where they targeted black drivers during the afternoon shift to tow their vehicles. The prejudice the two allegedly showed toward black motorists was called the precinct’s “dirty little secret,” as they tried to recruit more white officers to their shift to engage in that kind of bias behavior.
Craig said what the two are accused of doing shows racial strife at their former precinct. Their actions only came to light after a Jan. 29 traffic stop where Steele and Garrison pulled over Ariel Moore, an African-American woman, during a brutally cold winter. A video of the encounter showed a humiliated Moore walking home by herself as the officers appeared to make fun of her as well as of Black History Month.
What Craig told Detroiters this week is very alarming. It reminds me of a 2015 U.S. Department of Justice report on the Ferguson Police Department in Missouri, after an African-American teenager Michael Brown died in an encounter with a white police officer. His death led to days of national protest against police brutality.
“Officers routinely conduct stops that have little relation to public safety and a questionable basis in law,” the DOJ report stated about Ferguson’s police force’s misconduct.
The Ferguson report details Ferguson's racial bias against blacks.
“With respect to speeding charges brought by FPD, the evidence shows not only that African Americans are represented at disproportionately high rates overall, but also that the disparate impact of FPD’s enforcement practices on African Americans is 48 percent larger when citations are issued not on the basis of radar or laser, but by some other method, such as the officer’s own visual assessment,” the report stated. “These disparities are also present in FPD’s use of force. Nearly 90 percent of documented force used by FPD officers was used against African Americans. In every canine bite incident for which racial information is available, the person bitten was African American.”
What we should worry about now is that Detroit doesn’t racially explode like Ferguson because of apparent racial bias and constitutional violations against Detroit residents. There needs to be a department-wide audit of all the precincts to determine if the reported behavior of the officers in question is reflective of the entire apparatus of the police force. This is even more urgent now after a 2017 internal report found that black officers were also complaining about discrimination from some white supervisors.
What is also deeply disturbing is that Craig admitted that officers Steele and Garrison were not only union officials in the department, but they had influence on younger officers who looked up to them. The officers they trained, according to the chief faced citizen complaints. That’s a recipe for lawsuits.
Despite the racial reckoning that is taking place inside Detroit’s police department, which could possibly set this city on an ugly and perilous course, Mayor Mike Duggan seems to have taken a back seat. He has yet to convene a press conference or media briefing to fully address the issue as other mayors around the nation have done in similar circumstances. When I asked his office for direct comments from him about the issue, his spokesman John Roach referred me to social media where Duggan only expressed support of Craig’s measures to address the issue.
Has Duggan forgotten he was the one elected to legally protect residents? Is he going to wait until there is a racial explosion in this city, before he steps up to the microphone and fully take charge of the crisis brewing in the police force?
Duggan needs to act on the warning signals before it is too late. If he is not motivated to publicly speak forcefully on this issue after his own police chief went public this week, I don’t know what else he is waiting for.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.