Editor’s Note: Attorney Tina M. Patterson, a Detroit native is the president and director of research at The PuLSE Institute. 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 and dean of The PuLSE Institute at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Tina M. Patterson, Esq.
During the summer of 2020, amidst a new and deadly global pandemic, when 6-feet apart and social distancing entered our lexicon to prevent the spread of the virus and protect our health, millions of marchers nonetheless gathered in streets across the country and around the globe (on nearly every continent). Each of these millions of individuals put their health at risk by coming out in force to protest and show unity in their disdain for the unjust taking of the life of a Black man, George Floyd, under the knee of a white Minneapolis police officer.
With the video captured and shared virally, millions watched in horror, many understandably with tears in their eyes, as Floyd helplessly begged for the precious breath of life, while it was squeezed out of him for nearly 9 minutes under the knee of someone sworn to protect and serve the very life he was now taking mercilessly.
That grueling video, which has never left the public conscience since its inception, is now being revisited as we are amid the criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, the officer who claimed George Floyd’s life that fateful day while wearing the badge.
The testimony being reported from the trial has been a haunting reminder of that horrific day, as multiple witnesses have taken the stand and broken down in tears at how deeply affected Floyd’s murder cut into their very psyche. Darnella Frazier, the 18-year old who recorded the video, took the stand testifying that “when I look at George Floyd, I look at my dad,” and other relatives, and said she stayed awake some nights apologizing to Floyd for not doing more.
The trial has even broken the seemingly impenetrable blue wall of silence, as numerous officers testified against Chauvin’s deadly force, including Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who testified that Chauvin’s knee restraint “absolutely” violated department policy and that his use of force was “totally unnecessary” and “uncalled for.”
Now, tragically and intolerably, we are dealing with yet another Black man losing his life to police in Minnesota. Daunte Wright, a 20-year old Black man, was gunned down just miles away from where Chauvin’s trial is currently in session. Wright, pulled over in a routine traffic stop for allegedly having an air freshener in the car, was killed by an officer, a 26-year veteran, who claimed to mistakenly fire her gun when she intended to use a taser instead. This officer, Kim Potter, along with the Brooklyn Center police chief, Tim Gannon, have since resigned in the aftermath that has once again sparked public outrage against officer involved killings of Black men and women.
Despite the flux of emotions near its boiling point in Minnesota and around the country with the trial of Floyd’s murderer and now another Black man dead at the hands of police, Detroit Police Chief James Craig made time to deliver insensitive and outrageously tone deaf messages to the media, completely disregarding the mass and growing outrage against inexcusable police killings of Black men, often unarmed and accosted for the most trivial violations that in no way warrant immediate death.
Craig once again appeared on Fox News, the go-to media outlet for former President Donald Trump, where Craig called the Wright killing a troubling incident, but then quickly defended the police institution, stating that officers don’t feel supported, which has led to an exodus of officers in various departments around the country. Craig also stated that officers are “going to make mistakes,” and continued “We’re going to make bad decisions. Sometimes we have to own them,” before calling for due process to run its course.
Craig repeated his defense of officers to the local media, stating “This was a tragic incident, and it should’ve never happened. But when these tragedies happen, you shouldn’t just broad-bush the entire profession,” referring to the condemnation of the Wright killing by Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who stated that “Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist.” Tlaib ended her statement with “No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.”
In response, Craig called Congresswoman Tlaib’s statement “a disgusting knee-jerk response,” and continued, stating that “To say policing should be abolished gives no consideration to the people who live in our neighborhoods who rely on police to provide service.” Finally, Craig stated “The people who live in our city don’t want to abolish the police,” before questioning who Congresswoman Tlaib truly represents.
In the same vein that Craig believes bad police don’t represent all police, just because James Craig is a Detroiter does not mean he speaks for all Detroiters. Craig does not speak for me as a Detroiter, a tax-paying citizen born and raised in this city, and countless others in and from the city who fiercely disagree with the toleration of police officers who kill Black suspects and face little to no punishment for the ultimate crime of murder.
Craig only speaks for the department which he is tasked with leading, and based on his department’s accumulative track record of dishonesty and racial controversies under his problematic leadership, no one should be listening to him on any manners of policing in this era. After all, this is the same police chief who downplayed the disparities in law enforcement treatment given to white rioters who were barely arrested during the notorious January 6 insurrection on the Capital Building, in comparison to Black protestors during the Floyd protests last summer who were routinely tear gassed, beaten, and even run over by police, including right here in Detroit, an inhumane action defended by both Craig and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.
James Craig and the Detroit Police Department are no models to look to for any standard of policing, certainly not one that is honest or reform oriented, nor one to consider as a national prototype. At the current time, the Detroit Police Department houses 54 dishonest officers whose testimonies have been deemed so untruthful, that they cannot testify in any court of competent jurisdiction. To this day, Chief Craig has yet to remove these dishonest officers from his force.
In contrast, the city of Savannah, Georgia, Police Chief Roy Minter, a Detroit native born and raised in the city, stated that lying is a cause for termination in his department. During the inaugural PuLSE Institute Chief William T. Riley Lecture Series in Police Transformation, in reference to dishonesty on the force, Chief Minter simply replied, “If you get sustained on an untruthfulness allegation, you’re done. I will fire you.” Chief Minter doubled down on his philosophy, explaining that “If you cannot go to court and be allowed to testify in a court of law as a law enforcement officer, then what is the purpose of you keeping your job.”
In addition to harboring dishonest police officers on the force, the Detroit Police Department, under the leadership of James Craig, is currently in federal litigation with the group Detroit Will Breathe, an organization founded in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder to protest police brutality. The lawsuit alleges the Detroit police used excessive force against protestors during the George Floyd protests last summer, and has gained some victories so far in the case, including the dismissal of the city’s disgraceful countersuit, in which the court rejected the city’s claims that protestors conspired to cause civil unrest and harm police officers.
In an additional, latest federal lawsuit, filed just yesterday against the Detroit Police under Craig’s leadership, Robert Williams, set forth claims against the department’s controversial use of facial recognition technology. Williams, a Black man, was falsely arrested using this faulty technology that the U.S. government has confirmed to be mostly racist based upon its high rate of false positives when identifying individuals of darker ethnicities.
In fact, the landmark study found that Asian and African American people were up to 100 times more likely than white men to be misidentified using this technology. Craig has nonetheless supported the use of facial recognition technology and now must face the consequences of the inherent constitutional violations that stem from the use of such biased technology as alleged in the suit. Given the novelty of the issue, the City of Detroit, under the police leadership of Craig and the administration of Mayor Mike Duggan, may set a precedent and become a case study at the intersection of racist police identification tools and the constitutional protections those tools threaten to endanger.
With his department’s track record of dishonesty and disregard for constitutional protections as alleged in federal lawsuits against his department, James Craig not only fails to rise as a model law enforcement chief, but he also again embarrasses and betrays this city’s pioneering legacy of fighting for civil rights and equality for African Americans. Particularly, Detroit has been the home of bold and courageous Black leadership that has fiercely fought against the issue of police brutality. Unlike Craig, who stands up to protect the institutions of oppression, Detroit has a proud history of Black leaders who stood up against these oppressive forces in defense of other Black men and women when tasked with the awesome force of political and judicial power.
First, the late Congressman John Conyers of Detroit, the leading proponent of the need for reparations and the only congressman to be endorsed by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was also a staunch advocate for police reform. As outlined in his PuLSE Institute column, former White House Spokesman Robert Weiner wrote that as a “founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus, Conyers’ civil rights origins were crucial to his career,” as Conyers “served as Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Criminal Justice in 1983, and even back then he helped lead a hearing where civil rights groups presented evidence on Police Brutality against blacks in New York City.”
Even as recently as 2016, Conyers, along with then House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), released a joint, bipartisan statement in an effort to focus on policing strategies, stating: “It’s clear that more must be done to end excessive use of force, strengthen police accountability, prevent violent attacks on law enforcement and improve the relationship between police officers and the communities they are sworn to protect and serve.”
Relating back to Dr. King, it was here in Detroit where King delivered his first rendition of the landmark “I Have A Dream” speech, one of the greatest orations in the history of humankind. In that speech, which he most famously delivered in front of a multiracial crowd of 250,000 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, King made it plainly known that “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”
The history of civil rights in Detroit also rests significantly with the late Coleman A. Young, Detroit’s legendary and longest-serving first Black mayor, who ushered in his political victory by prominently campaigning against the rampant police brutality plaguing the city’s Black residents. Once elected, Young swiftly fulfilled that promise by not only disbanding the notorious police faction brutalizing Black residents known as STRESS (Stop The Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets), but he also quickly and famously integrated the city’s police department within his first mayoral term to allow young Black officers at the time, including Craig, to even join the force and enter the ranks of law enforcement.
Young’s integration was not without challenge, as white officers sought to dismantle his integration plan by suing in federal court. Fortunately for Black officers like Craig, the case went before legendary Federal Judge Damon J. Keith, also a Detroit native, and a gallant and courageous Black man who did not cower to the status quo, but instead used the judicial power vested in him to strike down resistance to integration and usher in equal justice under law long withheld from Black citizens of this country. Keith, from the federal bench, courageously upheld Young’s police department integration plan, ruling that “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.”
The hardline police tactics of James Craig, under Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration, must be seen as nothing more than an attempt to replace the entire police accountability legacy of former Mayor Coleman Young. Unlike Mayor Duggan, Young did not have an appetite for the policing philosophy and tactics of James Craig.
Craig is actually the kind of police chief that former President Trump appreciates, as Trump publicly praised Craig’s efforts as police chief in Detroit last year following a summer of protests stemming from the murder of George Floyd.
In stark contrast to the current leadership at helm, it must not be lost that the city of Detroit has a longstanding history of challenging police brutality at levels in every branch of government, from the halls of the Mayor’s office at City Hall, from behind the bench in federal court, and from the Congressional offices in Washington D.C. Detroit should not and does not need to look to Chief James Craig as a standard bearer at the crossroads of public policy and policing.
In this day and age, as the pendulum is ever shifting in favor of massive police overhaul to put an end to the guiltless killing of Black men and women, James Craig is not a leader to seek answers from, as his philosophy on policing is one that must forever be left in the past if America is to ever truly heal the wounds of racism vested so deeply within police departments across the nation.
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I thank you for this article!!!
I met Police Chief Craig ironically at a restorative justice world conference in 2019, where he was a featured speaker. He was smooth and gave the crowd the lines they wanted to hear. Later I had a chance to speak to him one on one for about 15 minutes. It was obvious to me that he was not at all about restorative justice, but about using the Detroit police to subjugate the community. He’s a slick guy, but his actions speak louder than his words. As you are documenting here, Craig is a major impediment to systemic progress in Detroit, in the mold of any authoritarian leader who uses violence and his access to the power of the state to silence and bully other voices in order to maintain a broken status quo. The sooner Craig and his patron, the mayor, are replaced, the sooner real progress can happen in Detroit. You are part of that process of course. Good luck.