No one in public service, however well-intentioned, can be perfect all the time. However, public servants must always respect the people we serve. Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Etue’s offensive social media message about NFL players protesting police misconduct is troubling on many levels including the disrespect it shows for concerns of residents she serves.
As I said in a joint statement with Mayor Mike Duggan: “there’s nothing more important than respecting the constitutional rights of our citizens.” First among those is the right to peacefully protest when you believe our government is behaving unjustly. Col. Etue not only insults Colin Kaepernick and the other NFL players who kneel during the National Anthem to raise awareness about police misconduct, she disrespects an American value that we should all hold sacrosanct.
More troubling than her initial social media post is the response from both Col. Etue and her boss, Gov. Rick Snyder. It is not enough for Col. Etue to say she’s sorry to anyone who was offended. It’s also not enough for Gov. Snyder to dismiss Col. Etue’s behavior as a mistake that can be overlooked. Col. Etue offended the basic principle of free expression without government interference. Her role as the state’s chief law enforcement officer is to protect everyone, no matter who they are. By attacking American citizens who are speaking out rather than respecting their rights, she’s fallen short of that standard.
Public servants, especially law enforcement leaders, must be held to a higher standard. We have an obligation to take responsibility for our actions. We have to be accountable. As an elected official, I know public scrutiny can sometimes be unpleasant. I also know it ultimately makes us better public servants.
The divisions, real and perceived, that exist between communities of color and law enforcement benefit neither side. As a black man, I’m troubled by the disproportionate numbers of young black men dying at the hands of police. As a career law enforcement officer, I know that no police force can effectively fight crime if it is perceived or behaves as an occupying force in the community. Residents must believe that law enforcement agencies can be trusted to help them instead of targeting them.
We need leadership that breeds trust and cooperation between law enforcement and the communities it serves. As Michigan’s top officer, Col. Etue has an obligation to provide leadership toward that goal. Instead, her recent behavior has created more divisiveness and undermined the public trust in the state police officers she leads.
As the leader of Michigan’s largest county, which include the state’s largest city, I cannot ignore how that divisiveness affects our communities. As the governor for all of Michigan’s residents, neither should Gov. Snyder.
Leadership matters. Right now, leaders must work toward building trust and respect between the people who serve and those we serve.
Prior to serving as County Executive, Mr. Evans served as Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit Police Chief.