The controversy over National Football League players taking a knee during the national anthem spilled over into the Michigan Senate today, as members took turns either defending Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue for a controversial Facebook post on the issue, or calling for her resignation.
“I stand in support of Col. Kriste Etue. Under her, the state police have become much more professional and she’s worked hard for diversity,” said Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge. “Now she’s coming under fire for sharing a meme on her private Facebook page. She has the same first amendment rights as do the players who take a knee during the national anthem.”
But the Legislative Black caucus, which includes 22 House and Senate members, called for Etue's immediate resignation or termination.
"It is clear that Col. Etue does not understand the nature of the protests, nor respect the First Amendment rights of protesters," said Rep. Sheldon Neeley, D-Flint, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus. “This calls into question her ability and objectivity to lead the men and women in her department who are charged with not just enforcing laws, but also protecting and serving people of color … She’s not sorry for her position, just that she posted it.”
Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield and a former sheriff’s deputy, said Etue should be held to a higher standard.
“So now we know something about the the Colonel. She’s said that athletes are degenerates. We now have a Colonel who has now shown a bias toward a group of residents. How can she can continue to do this job,” he said. “If this had been an everyday officer, they would have been terminated. If we just let this go, what does this say about the state of Michigan, what does it say about the state police?”
Etue posted a meme to her Facebook page that called the protesting football players "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 started in 2016 when then-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem to protest oppression against people of color. Since then the movement has 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.
The debate on the Senate floor got into not only the NFL protests, but the 2016 elections, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, President Donald Trump and the death of Damon Grimes, a 15-year-old Detroiter who was riding an all-terain vehicle and died in August after being tased by a Michigan State Police trooper.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, said Democrats condemning Etue were being hypocritical.
“We had somebody running for president who called half of us deplorable. For those that were supporting her, where was the outrage then,” he said, referring to Clinton. “But leave the flag alone. Leave the national anthem alone, Protest all day long. But a lot of veterans feel disrespected right now, where’s the outrage, where’s the concern for them.”
Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, reminded his colleagues that is was Trump who said that there were some “fine people” who participated in a white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, but then called the peacefully protesting football players “sons of bitches.”
“If you don’t see the hypocrisy there, the ridiculousness, the racism there … I don’t know what’s wrong with this body,” he said. “You cannot love the flag and the Constitution without understanding what it means. You don’t get to tell people how and when to protest.”
Sen. Patrick Colbeck, R-Canton, said he believes the NFL demonstrations are clearly protests of national anthem and the American flag.
“If you’re going to protest, don’t protest the symbol of our unity,” he said.
Several Democrats said Colbeck and others supporting Etue were misinterpreting the protests.
“We believe in the American spirit of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We’re not protesting the flag. We thank God for the flag,” said Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit. “But as a black man, when can I protest? When can I speak out? When can I show frustration and anger?”
While some of the Democrats called on Etue to either resigned or be fired, Gov. Rick Snyder said that will not happen.
“She has served with distinction as an outstanding public servant for decades,” said Snyder’s spokeswoman Anna Heaton. “The Governor will not be asking her to resign.”