The director of the Michigan State Police has sparked a controversy by wading into the national debate over whether NFL players should stand for the national anthem through a strongly worded message she posted to social media.
A message shared by Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue on her Facebook page Sunday, in an apparent reference to athletes participating in anthem demonstrations, calls them "millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our armed forces and veterans" and "a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates."
The protests, starting in 2016 when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick said he took a knee for the pre-game national anthem to protest oppression against people of color, have grown and gained international attention, especially after a Friday speech by President Donald Trump last week in which he referred to the demonstrators as SOBs who should be fired.
Etue's posting of the message, signed "we the people," reportedly upset some black troopers in a department that has been under scrutiny for its lack of racial diversity.
The department is also under fire and facing protests in Detroit after 15-year-old Damon Grimes of Detroit died following a state trooper firing a Taser through a police vehicle window at him, in violation of policy, while pursuing the teen, who then crashed his ATV.
Leonard Mungo, a Detroit attorney who has represented about a dozen black and white troopers in civil disputes with the department, said the posting demonstrates "kind of a dangerous mindset for someone in her powerful position."
It's "scary that they don't understand that America is defined by its freedoms, and one of these freedoms is freedom of speech," Mungo said. It also "has implications for why the state police ... don't have representative numbers of African Americans in their ranks," he said.
Shanon Banner, a spokeswoman for Etue, said the colonel's Facebook post was not about race, and was posted not publicly, but so that only Etue's friends would see it.
"As a public servant, Col. Etue has great respect for the armed forces and those who fight to protect our freedoms, Banner said in an e-mail to the Free Press.
Etue did not create the post, Banner said. "It’s a meme that is posted in other places around the Internet," she said.
The Free Press reported in 2015 that 22 years after it was freed from federal oversight for failing to hire enough blacks, women and other minorities, the Michigan State Police had relapsed into a department overwhelmingly dominated by white males.
At that time, the 59 blacks among the 1,134 state troopers represented less than half the number the State Police had when a federal consent decree was lifted in 1993, during which time the percentage of black troopers in the department plummeted from 12.5% to 5.2%, the newspaper reported.
The article said that in a sign the declining trend could continue, only 14, or just more than 3%, of the last 430 recruits to graduate from the department's six most recent trooper schools — all held since Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took office in 2011 — had been black.
Since the article ran, the department has stepped up its recruitment of women and minorities and significantly boosted the number of blacks graduating from its trooper schools. But blacks in the department still don't reflect Michigan's demographic make-up, where blacks make up about 14% of the population.
John C. Stewart, a Plymouth attorney who served in the state House as a Republican but later switched his allegiance to the Democrats, is among Etue's Facebook friends and confirmed that the post attributed to Etue remained on her Facebook timeline Tuesday afternoon.
"This is unprofessional and does not sound like something that would have been authored by Kriste," Stewart told the Free Press.
Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, chairman of the House Law and Justice Committee, said he'd like to see "more unity, less hypersensitivity, and more respect for people and ideas" on all sides.
Kesto said he wants to support veterans and those currently serving in the armed forces and police forces and doesn't want to make generalized criticisms about either an NFL player who opts to take a knee or someone who chooses to post a meme to social media.
In full, the posting reads as follows:
“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.”
Michigan State Police released a statement late on Tuesday, Sept. 26.