Thursday, January 12, 2017

Racial committee co-chair blasts Detroit Police chief for undermining reports of bias

Posted By on Thu, Jan 12, 2017 at 10:08 PM

  • Screenshot from Detroit Police Facebook page
Detroit Police Chief James Craig is undermining the findings of a committee he set up last year to look into racial issues in the department following a racially-insensitive social media post by a white officer.

The department, according to Craig, does not suffer from a growing race problem, despite the determination of an internal report by the Committee on Race and Equality.

It was released this week following a series of Freedom of Information Act requests by local media. Someone, the chief said, had disclosed the report's existence following the recent controversy over a city police officer who called Detroiters "garbage" in the comments section of a news story.

The Committee on Race and Equality (CORE) was headed by two officers — John Bennett and Joseph Weekley. Bennet is black. Weekley — whose name you may recognize because he's the officer who killed Aiyana Stanley-Jones — is white.

Over the course of eight months, about 15 officers assigned to CORE held bi-weekly meetings and paid dozens of visits to police precincts to interview officers and gather their sentiments on the racial issues facing the department.

They heard complaints over elite units that were overwhelmingly staffed by whites in a department in which about two-thirds of officers are black. African-American officers who saw bias in the process of appointments, in turn, faced retaliation by white command officers. The report described "top-down entrenched discriminatory practices" that trickled "from command officers to the rank and file."

But on Thursday afternoon, at a news conference timed to follow the release of the damning report, Craig downplayed the allegations.

"A lot of what CORE uncovered was based on rumor,” said Craig, sitting at a table flanked by the usual set of command officers. "CORE co-chair Officer Weekley pointed out that he found nothing of substance," said the chief.

Absent from the news conference — and hardly mentioned in Craig's statements — was Weekley's black counterpart, recently retired CORE co-chair Bennett.

So, naturally, Metro Times decided to solicit Bennett's thoughts on the chief's response to his months-long effort.

"The idea of this being rumor and innuendo is offensive," said Bennett, who noted that Craig once visited a precinct as a fight broke out between a black officer and a white officer. "[It's] just another example of [the chief's] disingenuous behavior, the lack of sincerity on his part and the dishonesty."

Bennett told Metro Times that in August, as CORE completed its report and got set to issue 19 recommendations for alleviating racial tensions in the department, Craig in fact suggested disbanding CORE. On Thursday, however, Craig said he would keep the racial fact-finding body intact — and even add to it 47 members.

"Fact-finding" was a term heavily emphasized by the chief as he described what CORE was set up to do. He repeatedly noted that the committee was not intended "to investigate" and that, because many interviewees remained unnamed, it "wouldn't be due process to go after" the higher-ranking officers named in their complaints.

But Bennett insists Craig has the power to make the changes needed to mitigate the racial problems plaguing the force.

"He's just not sincere when it comes to addressing issues on race," said Bennett.

Indeed, Craig's track record in dealing with such issues appears less-than-stellar.

Though he created the committee to look into race following the fallout over a sergeant's inflammatory post about Beyonce's Super Bowl halftime show last year, not much happened to the sergeant. The officer was initially moved from his precinct for suggesting the Ku Klux Klan should be allowed to headline the event in the future, but his LinkedIn page shows he was reinstated not long after.

Nathan Weekley, CORE co-chair Joseph Weekley's brother, was demoted over the summer for calling Black Lives Matter supporters "terrorists." But a document obtained by Metro Times shows that Weekley has since been reappointed as detective.

The chief on Thursday suggested he would have suspended without pay the officer at the center of the latest such scandal. But officer Daniel Wolff, who said Detroit cops have "to police the garbage" but don't have to "live in the garbage," managed to retire first.

"Officers feel emboldened by the lack of discipline," said Bennett. "If you don't address it, these things are gonna keep occurring."

In Thursday's news conference, Craig said he has acted on some of the insights provided by CORE. A program has been set up, he says, to allow officers to have a chance to work better assignments. There's more racial and gender diversity at the command level, according to Craig. The department is apparently looking into making changes in its Equal Opportunity Office — an entity officers who spoke to CORE had taken issue with. And Craig touted increased gender diversity in the department's Special Response Team, adding that the department "often exceeds the national average" when it comes to diversity in staffing.

But Bennett says Craig hasn't gone far enough, especially because "throughout the process he promised that whatever recommendations we made would be put in place."

CORE's recommendations include cultural diversity training, easier access to training opportunities, more events to unify the force, and for the committee to become permanent.

But Bennett says most importantly, the department has "to start making examples when [racial problems] arise ... you have to be very public and very transparent so officers know this won't be tolerated."

Otherwise, he says, "you create a greater divide. Those white officers now feel emboldened that they have the chief's support."

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