Detroit Police Chief Craig Disgraces History of Black Freedom Struggle Against Police

Editor’s Note: Tina M. Patterson, a Detroit native is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute, Detroit’s independent anti-poverty think tank. She was previously a federal government attorney with the Social Security Administration. During her stint at the Social Security Administration, she wrote legally binding decisions for administrative law judges throughout the United States and Puerto Rico. For submission inquiries contact Bankole Thompson, the editor-in-chief of The PuLSE Institute at info@thepulseinstitute.org.

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” –Martin Luther King, Jr., 1963 March on Washington

By Tina M. Patterson, Esq. 

After a summer of sweltering protests against police brutality following the heinous murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the recent abysmal failure to indict police officers for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, protestors remain in full swing around the country in an effort to denounce systemic racism and demand police reform and accountability.

Detroit has been no stranger to the ongoing social unrest and protest for change, as activists have marched and organized in calling for change right here in the city. These demands for change merit serious review, as Detroit police officers have engaged in their own questionable conduct against protestors. In fact, the Detroit Police Department is now being sued in Federal Court by protest group Detroit Will Breathe, who recently won a temporary restraining order barring police from using certain tactics against protestors.

Despite this meritorious inquiry and reasonable skepticism surrounding the actions of his officers, Detroit Police Chief James Craig, disregarding the legitimate criticism of the department, has made a series of statements that can only be described as dangerously misleading at best, and shamefully ignorant at worst. 

According to Chief Craig, when it comes to the protests against police brutality, “Race doesn’t matter,” as he explained in an interview with Town Hall, a prominent conservative news site. He went on to state that, “The real issue is not as much about the race. The anarchists and the Marxist Ideology, they have no support for anybody in government. They want to undermine that so it doesn’t matter what race your race is. It’s less about that.” Craig has repeated these baseless claims in numerous media outlets, which have largely failed to do any due diligence on the factual nature behind these outrageous assertions.

Craig’s statements dismissing race and blaming protest on “anarchists” and “Marxists” are dangerous propaganda borrowed from the history books of the Anti-Communist Red Scare movement to delegitimize some of the most ardent advocates for Black humanity and civil rights in this country. 

For Craig, a Black man, to regurgitate this vile rhetoric, is an absolute disgrace and a shameful moral indictment of his brand of leadership over the police force in Detroit, the nation’s largest Black city. Furthermore, Craig’s remarks are a public display of ignorance to his own history- the history of violent struggle faced by Blacks for generations in this country that always involved a battle against government forces by courageous Blacks who refused to fall in line with the law and order agenda imposed upon them to keep them disempowered and confined to the lowest rungs of society. 

As a possible defense mechanism, Craig has flaunted the support of his actions by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, the first white mayor of Detroit in 40 years, noting that the two were in “lockstep.” This comes as no surprise as both have demonstrated little concern for accountability for police brutality against citizens, even defending the actions of police who rammed through a crowd of protestors in a police vehicle. Duggan and Craig have also displayed minimal concern for racist culture within the police department itself, as well as the revelation that 54 untruthful officers, whose credibility is so skewed that their testimony was deemed inadmissible in court, still remain on the force. 

Both Duggan and Craig support the seemingly and inherently racist facial recognition technology, which studies have determined discriminate against nonwhite individuals. Right here in Detroit, two Black men have already fallen victim to the fatal misidentification flaw of facial recognition technology. How many more must suffer under the weight of false arrest until Chief Craig and Mayor Duggan in lockstep agree this is not just a problem, but an irresponsible and arguably unconstitutional city policy that disproportionately impacts the 80% Black city that they govern?

Civil Rights Leaders Have Historically Condemned Police Brutality

Chief Craig, a Black man, through his use of this kind of dangerous propaganda that was historically used to delegitimize civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., has demonstrated a severe denial of the understanding of Black history and the Black struggle for civil and human rights. Additionally, his comments reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of constitutional rights, which as a law enforcement official is particularly troublesome, as this is of the utmost duty for any public official to uphold.

With his flagrant remarks denying race as an issue and delegitimizing protestors as anarchists who don’t support government, Chief Craig is woefully and callously indifferent to the history that afforded him the opportunity to ever dream of becoming a Black police chief.

Protest against government is a longstanding tradition in the United States, and a constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution. Despite these sacred liberties, Black people have had to fight relentlessly for the application of these rights to protect and cover them, which necessarily included protesting and demonstrating against the most oppressive force ever faced- the United States government and its police forces around the country.

In the face of such a powerful foe, countless unnamed heroes and luminaries of Black history alike defied state-sanctioned violence and suppression, instead giving their lives to the cause of freedom and civil rights. These courageous individuals made it their life’s mission to stand for what is right, particularly when it came to expressing their conviction against the horrors of police brutality.

Recently departed Civil Rights icon, the late Congressman John Lewis, a lifelong advocate of nonviolence, expressed his ardent conviction against police brutality in defense of Black humanity. During the 1963 March on Washington, Lewis, then the National Chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee boldly made the case against police brutality, stating: 

“Those who have said, ‘Be patient and wait’ — we must say that we cannot be patient. We do not want our freedom gradually, but we want to be free now. We are tired. We are tired of being beaten by policemen. We are tired of seeing our people locked up in jail over and over again, and then you holler, ‘Be patient.’ How long can we be patient?”

Lewis, who will long be remembered as a venerable drum major for justice, was also one of the most prominent victims of police brutality when his skull was fractured by police during the infamous “Bloody Sunday” as he led hundreds of marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. 

The keynote speaker of the March on Washington and the country’s foremost authority on civil rights and nonviolence, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., also lamented against police brutality before the 250,000 protestors of all races, who occupied the nation’s capital expressing legitimate discontent against their government for its malignant treatment of African Americans. Dr. King expressly stated: “There are those asking the devotees of civil rights ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

Yet another fierce and fearless voice against police brutality and government subjugation of Black people was the late Minister Malcolm X. Long before he toured the world exposing the horrors of state-sanctioned violence against Black people, Malcolm X first commanded the attention of protestors and government officials alike in Harlem, New York in 1957. After the beating of a young black Muslim man named Hinton Johnson, Malcolm X led a group of fellow Muslims to the police station to demand to see Johnson and ensure that he receive medical care. The small group grew to 500 protestors before police allowed Malcolm to speak with Johnson, who then received the medical care demanded. 

All three of these men paid the price in standing up against oppressive police forces and unjust laws. Because of the extreme risk involved in such courageous behavior, only one of them lived a full life before passing away at age 80- John Lewis, who lived longer than Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X combined. Such is the price of freedom, and the daring of these men to stand unwaveringly in the face of extreme hate, violence, and repressive government policies is what allowed Blacks to begin breaking down the barriers of legal exclusion in all industries and areas of life, and a legacy to which Chief Craig is forever indebted. 

Another disconcerting trend Craig has displayed is a penchant for dismissing young people as legitimate voices of critique, derogatorily saying of Detroit Will Breathe activist Tristan Taylor, “I’ve been in law enforcement longer than (Taylor) has been alive.” 

Once again, Craig’s comments run afoul of the history that produced him. Does Craig know that Martin Luther King, Jr. became the face of one of the most transformational social movements in human history when he was tapped to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott that sparked the Civil Rights Movement at the age of 26? Does he know that both King and Malcolm X, legendary leaders of Black humanity, were both assassinated at age 39? Does he know that John Lewis, who readily embraced young people and encouraged them to get in to “Good Trouble,” was only 21 years old when he entered the movement as one of the original Freedom Riders and at 23 years old, was the youngest speaker to the crowd of 250,000 people at the renowned March on Washington

If Craig had been allowed to be the police chief during their time in the Jim Crow era, would he ignorantly dismiss King, Malcom, and Lewis so disrespectfully due to their youth as well?

It is a universal philosophy that history is the greatest teacher. Clearly, given his reprehensible remarks dismissing protest against police and removing race from the equation, Chief Craig would do well to study the likes of these great men and rather than castigate the protestors following in their legacies, express gratitude for this same spirit of protest that afforded him the opportunity as a Black man to serve as police chief of a major American city.

Legendary Black Detroit Civil Rights Icons Supported Necessary Police Reform

Chief Craig’s arrogant dismissal of the call for police reform in his own troubled police department is also contrary to the legacy of integration of the Detroit Police Department ushered in by the legendary Coleman A. Young, first Black mayor of the city of Detroit and an outspoken advocate of ending racial injustice against Blacks. Young ran a historic mayoral campaign in the 1970s, in which he promised to eliminate the notorious police faction known as STRESS– Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets, a group that regularly targeted and beat young black men in the city. During the first years of his administration, Young went beyond disbanding STRESS by also boldly directing the department to integrate to afford more Blacks the opportunity to join the force, including hiring the city’s first Black police chief, William Hart, in 1976.

This unpopular decision was challenged when white officers sued the City of Detroit under Young, a case that landed in federal court before another legendary Detroiter and staunch advocate for civil rights, the late Damon Jerome Keith, former Senior Judge of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Judge Keith, from the federal judiciary, upheld the Young administration’s integration of the police department in the 1979 Baker v City of Detroit decision

In the ruling, brought by white officers opposed to Mayor Young’s police department integration plan, Judge Keith plainly and courageously determined: “The City’s affirmative action program should not be seen as depriving white officers of any right to a promotion. Instead, it should be seen as a program conferring a bonus on blacks that have been subject to past discrimination.”

With this treasure trove of history in plain sight, Chief Craig’s remarks represent a betrayal of his own Black history in Detroit, fulfilling the prophecy by the late Pan-Africanist writer and physician, Frantz Fanon, who stated “Each generation out of relative obscurity, must discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” It is clear that Chief Craig has woefully betrayed the mission of the countless, gallant civil rights activists in his own city who literally paved the way for a Black man like himself to occupy any seat of power within government.

Craig does not speak for all Detroiters

Along with his baseless and irresponsible comments dismissing protestors as “Marxists,” Chief Craig has also repeatedly assured the media that Detroiters support him and denounce the demands of the protestors. This is yet another media assertion not supported by truth.

Let me be clear.

I am a Detroiter, Chief Craig, born and bred with Detroit DNA in every ounce of my blood, and I can say without a doubt that you do not speak for me. Craig’s actions are disgraceful and unbecoming of any public official, particularly as a Black man dismissing the long history of racism tied to policing, and his attempt to undermine legitimate protests by claiming Detroiters do not approve of these protests is simply false and dangerous propaganda. 

Integrity in policing in Detroit has a profound meaning to me. Not only as a Black woman in this country, and in this city of Detroit, the largest Black city in the nation. Not only as a tax paying resident of the City of Detroit, or as an advocate of good government. Not even as an attorney and officer of the court here in the State of Michigan. But most importantly, as the daughter of a law enforcement official.

My father began his career in law enforcement with the Detroit Police Department long before Chief Craig ever entered the force. In fact, while Chief Craig was graduating from Cass Tech High School in 1974, my father had already left DPD and joined the Wayne County Sheriff’s Office, where he spent the remainder of his career until retiring after 30 years of service in 2004. While he served under the badge in his vocation, he was no stranger to the horrors of police brutality and the racism that unnecessarily plagues Black men in America.

A child of the South, born in Tuskegee, Alabama, my father moved to Detroit at the age of 16 in January 1966. Just a year and a half later, as an 18 year old young man and fresh graduate of Detroit’s Central High School, he became the victim of police brutality himself when he was beaten by Detroit police during the infamous 1967 Detroit Riots that occurred mere blocks away from the family home.

His experience during the Riots, one that was shared with me at an early age, was never forgotten during his years of service in law enforcement. Routinely, he would reprimand his white colleagues who, despite having their Black suspects safely under arrest, would nonetheless take the liberty of harassing their detainees, including yes, placing their feet on the necks of these Black men. My father would tell them, tersely, using rather colorful language, to get their feet off their necks. With this action alone, there is no telling how many George Floyds my father may have saved, because he did not fall in line with the blue code while wearing the badge, and instead protected the lives and dignity of his fellow Black men to ensure they did not fall victim to senseless police violence.

Without a doubt, if my father was still alive and witnessed the horror that unfolded with George Floyd’s murder, he would align with the protestors against police brutality, endorsing the phrase, “Get your knee off his neck.”

The police institution is one that was largely bred out of the legacy of slavery, and protest against oppressive government has always played a role in the Black experience in this country. Without the courage to defy enslavement in confirmation of freedom and self-affirming humanity, without the courage to demonstrate against violent police forces and government administrations that cosigned violence in their communities, Black people would still be physically subjugated and legally excluded from ascending the coveted socioeconomic ladder, including the exclusion from rising as chief of police in a major American city. 

Certainly through his uninformed, reprehensible and ahistorical statements rendered to simply dismiss criticism rather than express truth, Detroit Police Chief James Craig has demonstrated a serious denial of history and lack of comprehension of the law to be a leader in any capacity, let alone that of a police department sworn to protect the community it serves. 

Resignation is warranted for Craig, whose outrageously reckless and Red Scare era commentary and campaign to vilify valid demands for more equitable governance, does not meet the needs of the people. The great American city of Detroit deserves better.

One comment

  1. Tina, this article was so well written, detailed and insightful that all I can do is SMH. Great job! Thank you!!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.