Bigoted and Unprofessional Police Chief Backed by Michigan Governor

Dear NFL: We will not support millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our Armed Forces and Veterans. Who wins a football game has ZERO impact on our lives. Who fights for and defends our nation has every impact on our lives. We stand with the Heroes, not a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American, degenerates. Signed, We the people.

This is an unsurprisingly nasty internet meme that was publicly shared by the director of the Michigan State Police on her Facebook page on Sunday, September 24. Director Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue apparently gave no thought to her pre-packaged, knee-jerk reaction to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem in protest of police treatment of African Americans in America. Col. Etue was apparently unprepared for the intense reaction to her casual castigation of fellow citizens, predominantly black athletes, acting on principle. A Michigan State Police spokesperson actually asserted that Col. Etue’s slanderous social media post was “not about race” — even though the issue wouldn’t exist without a racist justice system that allows cops (mostly white) to kill unarmed, innocent black people without suffering significant consequences.

Roughly two days after the posting, Col. Etue issued a brief, substance-free non-apology apology for it, posted on the Michigan State Police website (not on Facebook):

It was a mistake to share the message on Facebook and I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended. I will continue my focus on unity at the Michigan State Police and in communities across Michigan.

This is the nature of systemic racism. This example happens to be in Michigan, but its general pattern can be found almost anywhere in the US: some official makes a casually racist remark, perhaps even unaware of its racist import, and then when objections come, the official apologizes “to anyone who was offended” — which is a second offence compounding the first.

Col. Etue should not only be apologizing to everyone for embracing a dishonest, insupportable opinion, she should be apologizing for the opinion itself. And if she has the humanity for it, she should be ashamed. She should be ashamed both as an individual and as the head of the Michigan State Police.

As an individual, she is entitled to her opinion, even though this isn’t even her own opinion. She is also responsible for the falsehoods and provocation of her opinion: she has owned the false “disrespect” meme, she has ignored the real, racial roots of this protest, and she has adopted the divisive false dichotomy between “heroes” and “players” since there are players who are veterans. She has, in a word, publicly posted her own stupidity, and she could learn from that, but not until she recognizes and understands her actual offense.

As the leader of the Michigan State Police, she has additional responsibility beyond whatever personal bias she harbors. She is an appointed representative of the people charged with enforcing the law even-handedly. Her meme post is incredibly stupid from a professional perspective. A true professional learns to hide her bias, maybe even repair it, not broadcast it to the population that already distrusts her and police in general. In that sense, her mindless post was a form of incompetence and she should apologize for that, too.

It’s not as though racial insensitivity is a new issue in Michigan. As of March 2017, the Michigan State Police was essentially a white male institution (88% white, 90% male) that reflects no population anywhere. Of 1875 enlisted officers, there were 182 minority officers (121 African Americans, 47 Hispanics, and 14 Asians). 187 of the 1875 were women. Michigan’s state population of 9.5 million is 79.7% white and more than 50% female. Two troopers who won a racial discrimination suit against the Michigan State Police in 2013 (a $5.2 million jury verdict) later claimed they were targeted for retribution within the police force; Col. Etue said Michigan State Police would never discriminate or retaliate against one of its own (a second lawsuit based on retaliation is still pending).

Faced with charges of racial profiling, Michigan State Police have changed their record-keeping to be more accurate. A Detroit attorney who has won several lawsuits against the Michigan State Police said he wasn’t surprised by Col. Etue’s ugly post because, as he said, “I’ve become familiar with the display of coarse bigotry, narrow-mindedness and racism throughout the ranks of the Michigan State Police department.” In late August, a Michigan State Trooper fired a taser from his moving cruiser (a policy violation) causing the death of a 15-year-old black boy driving an ATV (currently under investigation by the Detroit police and subject of a $50 million lawsuit as “a drive-by shooting“ by the boy’s family).

Col. Etue’s post and apology do not pass any credibility test unless she’s so obtuse that she should be removed from office on that basis. Col. Etue has promised she won’t resign till 2018. She will continue to draw both her salary of $150,000 a year and a state pension of $80,000 a year until she retires. After her October 5 meeting with leaders of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, Col. Etue told reporters:

Obviously, my comments on a personal Facebook post was very offensive, and I’m truly sorry, that was never my intent. There’s a lot of issues in Michigan that I think we should be dealing with, and I’m going to stay focused on working throughout the state to make Michigan a safer place, and I will work with everyone in this legislature. Primarily we have some work to do with our minority populations. If I offended anyone I am truly sorry. I am not resigning. Thank you.

As soon as the story broke, before he had a chance to assess it meaningfully, Michigan governor Rick Snyder made clear he would not seek Col. Etue’s resignation. As of October 10, he had not met with the Legislative Black Caucus. Col. Etue is subject to internal discipline since her post apparently violated state police guidelines. For that, she might get a 5-day suspension or just a reprimand. That’s the way institutional racism works. Get caught at it, maybe you get a slap on the wrist. On October 5, Gov. Snyder illustrated the institutional racism playbook with his response about Col. Etue’s post:

I don’t agree with those statements…. Again, I said she made a mistake. She did something wrong, but part of being human is people do make mistakes, and the key thing is you apologize and you learn from those.

What you learn is to lay low. You don’t have to make a real apology to anyone specific. You don’t have to make an apology for your egregious and offensive remarks. You don’t have to retract any racist sentiments, you don’t have to acknowledge your racist bullying, you don’t have to make even false promises to fix actual problems.

A governor who wanted to fix a racist police force and establish something like even-handed justice in his state would have repudiated the race-baiting and offered some gesture toward equality and decency. Such a governor might have sought Col. Etue’s suspension until she made some credible effort to repair the damage she caused, until she actually made some act of atonement for reinforcing the racial divisiveness that keeps white people in power. But Gov. Snyder is in power in part thanks to his own racist dog whistles, the same racist dog whistles that have helped Republicans into high office at least since Nixon’s southern strategy and Reagan’s campaign kickoff in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the dark heart of racist murder.

This is what the party of Lincoln has become, a vehicle for racism and white supremacy that doesn’t mind poisoning a whole city like Flint, Michigan, and then letting it stay poisoned — because how many white voters live there anyway?

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. A collection of his essays, EXCEPTIONAL: American Exceptionalism Takes Its Toll (2019) is available from Yorkland Publishing of Toronto or Amazon. This article was first published in Reader Supported News. Read other articles by William.