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Detroit ombudsman: City needs a plan for "Ferguson-like incident"

An aerial view of Downtown Detroit with other part of the city in the distance.
Robert Thompson
Wikimedia Commons

Detroit’s ombudsman says the city should have a plan in place to prevent racial incidents from blowing up into civil disturbances.

Speaking to the Detroit Police Board of Commissioners Thursday, Bruce Simpson cited “a number of racially-charged incidents that have taken place recently.”

The latest is a Snapchat video taken by a white Detroit police officer of a young black woman forced to walk home in the cold after a traffic stop in which her car was impounded. The video included derisive, seemingly racist commentary, including remarks like “Bye Felicia” along with captions like “What black girl magic looks like” and “celebrating black history month.”

Simpson says city leadership should plan a “pre-emptive strike” before a similar incident sparks retaliatory outrage.

“Why not have a plan now? We know we have some problems, some issues at it relates to race. We have to be honest about that, and work together to come up with that plan,” Simpson said.

“If we are not careful, we will have a Ferguson-like incident. And I’m not certain we are equipped with a plan to address these issues which are born out of the racial divide that currently exists.”

Simpson said he thinks the incidents that have happened so far have been “dealt with appropriately.” But he thinks city leaders need to do more to plan for potential backlash as some parts of the 80% African American city diversify after decades of a black majority.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow,” Simpson said. “You don’t know, we don’t know. So we need to be prepared for anything that could happen in the future.”

Detroit Police Chief James Craigtold the Police Board of Commissioners Thursday that the department is still investigating the Snapchat incident, and conducting an “environmental audit” of the 6th Precinct, where officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison work.

Craig told commissioners preliminary results of the audit have found “similar problems” involving racial insensitivity among members of that precinct’s afternoon shift, where Steele and Garrison are senior officers.

Craig has suspended the officers with pay, but declined to ask the board of commissioners to suspend them without pay.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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