Detroit councilwoman threatens to subpoena police chief after cop told protester to ‘go back to Mexico’

click to enlarge Detroit Police confronted anti-war protesters on Sunday. - Viola Klocko

Viola Klocko

Detroit Police confronted anti-war protesters on Sunday.

Detroit City Councilwoman Mary Waters on Tuesday threatened to subpoena Police Chief James White to testify before the council after a white cop was caught on video telling an anti-war protester to “Go back to Mexico” on Sunday.

Waters, who is running for a seat in Congress, says the remark is the latest example of what “may be a disturbing, systemic pattern of racist, xenophobic police conduct.”

The at-large councilwoman also urged White to testify after Detroit police were scrutinized for their heavy-handed response to a Cinco de Mayo festival earlier this month. At the time, Waters questioned whether the police actions were “racist” and “xenophobic.”

White did not testify, and two weeks later, his officers were back in the spotlight for their treatment of people of color, this time over comments made to pro-Palestinian protesters.

Not only were police seen provoking further unrest, but video footage showed Detroit Lt. Brandon Cole telling a Palestinian activist to “Go back to Mexico,” a phrase that has become all too common among anti-immigration Trumpers.

“On the heels of very questionable, even militaristic shut down of some Cinco de Mayo activities that may have been a reflection of racist, xenophobic double standards not employed during NFL Draft crowd control; I am again requesting that Detroit Police Chief White appear before Detroit City Council to discuss what may be a disturbing, systemic pattern of racist, xenophobic police conduct,” Waters said in a written statement.

At a news conference Monday, White said he saw the video footage, which has gone viral, and acknowledged he was “offended” and “outraged.”

Commander Michael McGinniss, who is investigating the incident, provided more context for Cole’s statement. He said Cole was referring to the activist’s recent trip to Mexico, where she was on vacation.

“When you have that context, it challenges the egregiousness of the interaction, and though it does not eliminate concerns that Chief White has, it does change the storyline,” McGinniss said.

Cole has been placed on administrative duty while the investigation is ongoing.

With two high-profile incidents involving DPD and people of color this month, Waters intensified her demands for White to testify before council.

“If the chief again refuses to come before this duly elected council, it may be necessary to issue a subpoena mandating his appearance,” Waters said. “Detroit is an American city operating under principles of democracy not autocracy.”

Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton is also planning to call for an investigation at his board’s Thursday meeting.

“The city of Detroit is a welcoming and accepting city for all,” Burton tells Metro Times. “We expect our officers to treat residents and visitors with the utmost respect. I plan to get with my colleagues come Thursday to investigate this matter to see whether or not civil rights violations were committed. I will raise the tough question.”

In a written statement to Metro Times, DPD slammed Waters for suggesting the department was racist.

“Councilmember Waters’ suggestion that the Department suffers from systemic racism based on the video is unwarranted and irresponsible,” DPD said Tuesday. “The councilmember’s media advisory is nothing less than a slap in the face to every member of this Department who puts their lives on the line to serve Detroit’s residents, regardless of their race, sex, religious beliefs, or other social circumstances. As a Department, we serve each and every community with compassion and professionalism — from our African American communities, to our Arabic, Asian, Hispanic and White communities, to the entire host of other communities and cultures we serve every day. This is evident from this City’s historic crime reductions, our work in the community, and our responsiveness to the disabled and the disadvantaged, none of which takes into account a particular group’s classification.”

In August 2020, racial justice activists filed a federal police brutality lawsuit against DPD, alleging officers used unnecessary, excessive force to break up peaceful demonstrations against police misconduct.

Waters said the latest misconduct harkens back to an ugly time.

“We must ensure that a culture of racist, xenophobic behavior is not simmering systematically,” Waters said. “‘Go back to Mexico’ is sadly reminiscent of those days when my people were told to ‘go back to Africa’ during the Jim Crow era.”

Waters has been a vocal supporter of Palestinian rights. She is trying to unseat U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar, who has been a staunch ally of Israel.

DPD admonished Waters for using the media to get a response from the chief.

“As explained yesterday during our press conference, the actions of the lieutenant are regrettable in several respects,” DPD said. “Our Department has been proactive in providing context and releasing relevant footage to clarify — not justify — the lieutenant’s actions in an effort to be transparent. Regrettably, Councilmember Waters has not reached out to the Chief of Police, but is rather attempting to frame her messaging through a media release. The Department has no interest in continuing this unwarranted conversation in this manner.”

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