Gov. Snyder faces mounting pressure to fire state police boss over tirade

Ford Field, home of the Detroit Lions. Photo by Steve Neavling.

Michigan’s top cop will retain her job – for now – following an insult-laced tirade against predominately black NFL players who are peacefully protesting the national anthem.

Michigan State Police Col. Kriste Kibbey Etue.

Gov. Rick Snyder has resisted mounting pressure to force the resignation of Michigan State Police Director Kriste Kibbey Etue, who called protesters “arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates” on Facebook on Sunday. Snyder insists “she made a mistake and publicly apologized,” according to the governor’s spokeswoman Anna Heaton.

“The colonel said she made a mistake and publicly apologized,” Heaton said Wednesday. “She has served with distinction as an outstanding public servant for decades. The Governor will not be asking her to resign.”

But if the past is any indication, Snyder’s position could change. The second-term Republican initially refused to fire top state officials who were responsible for the Flint water crisis that poisoned tens of thousands of residents. However, Snyder changed his mind as outrage grew.

On Wednesday and Thursday, the calls for Etue’s resignation increased and included the ACLU of Michigan, the Michigan Black Legislative Caucus, other state lawmakers, U.S. Rep. John Conyers, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and and at least two Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

“Director Etue, through her original comments and disastrous apology, has shown a complete disregard for these constitutional principles and the highly relevant concerns of athletes who are protesting. her comments are even more concerning against the backdrop of a national pattern of law enforcement’s excessive, and sometimes fatal, force against people of color as well as MSP’s own strained relationship with communities of color,” said ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary L. Moss.

Abdul El-Sayed, a top gubernatorial candidate and the former director of the Detroit Health Department, criticized Snyder’s refusal to call for Etue’s resignation, saying the governor “doesn’t have what it takes” to be a leader.

“Col Etue’s shown her bias & insulted Americans exercising rights,” El-Sayed tweeted late Wednesday night. “She’s lost respect from communities she serves, those under her.”

He added: “She’s got to go. Show some leadership.”

Bill Cobbs, another Democrat running for governor, said Snyder’s response is yet another reason to vote for change on the state level.

“If we keep sending the same people back to Lansing do we really think they will change anything?” Cobbs said. “The definition of insanity is to continue doing the same thing while expecting a different result. It’s time for a radical change.”

Sen. Coleman Young II, who is running for mayor of Detroit, delivered an impassioned, 5-minute speech on the floor of the Michigan Senate on Thursday about the meaning of the protests. 

“All we are saying is look at us, love us the same way we love you and love this country,” Young said. “That’s all we’re saying. We just want value. We just want our children to be able to walk up and down the street without them being killed, shot and murdered.”

Detroit Branch NAACP President Wendell Anthony pointed out that a disproportionate number of state police are white, and many of them are patrolling in predominately black cities like Detroit. Last month,  a state police trooper tasered 15-year-old Damon Grimes on an ATV in Detroit, causing him to fatally crash. Detroit police are investigating the death and said they are concerned that a teenager would be tasered while riding an ATV, a common sight in Detroit.

State records show that only 6.5% of the state police force is black, while African Americans make up 14.2% of Michigan’s population.

Etue posted on Facebook that the demonstrators were “millionaire ingrates who hate America and disrespect our Armed Forces and Veterans” and that they were “a bunch of rich, entitled, arrogant, ungrateful, anti-American degenerates.”

Hours after the tirade began circulating Tuesday, Etue (pronounced:Et-choo) posted an apology on the Michigan State Police’s page.

“It was a mistake to share this message on Facebook and I sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended,” Etue’s post read. “I will continue my focus on the unity at the Michigan State Police and in communities across Michigan.”

More than 1,000 people responded to the statement on Facebook, many calling for her resignation.

“It was not a mistake to post it,” Facebook user Rhonda Marrone responded. “It was a mistake to think in such a racist way. If this is how you feel, you should not have this job upholding the constitution for ALL citizens.”

When we asked Twitter users whether Etue should resign, 71% of the 530 people who responded by Thursday evening said she should.

Etue, who is a graduate of the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and began her law enforcement career as a state trooper in 1987, was appointed by Gov. Snyder in January 2011 to head the state police. She also serves on at least seven influential boards, ranging from the Michigan Homeland Protection Board to the International Association of Chief Police.

The national anthem controversy is not going away. A protest and counter-protest are planned outside Ford Field before and during the Lions’ next home game on Oct. 8. Some protesters are calling for a boycott of the Lions after eight players kneeled during the national anthem last Sunday, drawing loud boos from a predominately white crowd.

GOP activist Brian Pannebecker is organizing the protest against the national anthem demonstrators and is planing on “shaming the players, and the owners, who allow the players to disrespect the national anthem and US flag,” he told the Detroit News

NFL players and others supporting the national anthem protests have emphasized that they are not kneeling to criticize or disrespect the military. They are kneeling to call attention to the racial disparities that still exist in America.

Silent on the Etue’s statements so far are top gubernatorial candidates Bill Schuette, a Republican, and Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.

A day after Etue’s rant, Schuette released a statement that said players should stand to honor veterans, but he did not mention the state police director.

“People have fought and died to protect America’s freedom,” said Schuette, who has been endorsed by President Trump. “That is why I stand for the National Anthem, and place my hand over my heart and salute our flag. I believe people should stand to honor the best nation on the face of the earth. When we do that, it sends a message to the whole world that we stand united, not divided, as Americans.”

Motor City Muckraker is an independent watchdog funded by donations. To help us cover more stories like this, please consider a small contribution.

Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.