Two Black government officials in Detroit are defending themselves after local Black activists publicly insulted them.
The Call 'Em Out Coalition hosted an event on March 21 intended to honor the life and contributions of the late Coleman Young, Detroit's first African American mayor. Fox 2 Detroit reports the president of the activist organization, Agnes Hitchcock, called out Detroit Police Chief James Craig and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown at the banquet by awarding them with the "Sambo" awards.
Sambo is a derogatory word which dates back to the late 1800s. It was used to denigrate the features of African Americans. It came to fruition during slavery and is now used as an insult to describe a Black person accused of acting in favor of white power.
Following the event, Craig and Brown have since defended themselves.
Brown, who also received the undistinguished honor in 2013, told Detroit News that neither of them “deserve to be dragged through the mud."
"If these were white nationalists saying this, we’d be outraged — well, I am outraged no matter who said it," Brown said. "And, worse, I have to explain this to my grandkids.”
“As someone who has faced discrimination from other Black people because of my light complexion," he continued, "I can tell you: I don’t care if it’s coming from the mouth of a white man or a Black man — racist is racist, and I’m going to call it out when I see it.”
Police Chief Craig responded similarly but took it a step further; he called a press conference, reports Fox 2 Detroit.
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"I say they don't get a pass," said Craig, referring to the fact that the members of the Call Em Out Coalition are Black Americans. "It certainly wasn't a flattering comment; it was racially insensitive."
"'Step and fetch it,' overly apologetic to whites," he described the term, "it was used a lot during slavery, and so for me, it is very hurtful," Craig continued. "To even attach Coleman Young to that award is wrong."
Craig addressed some of the criticisms Hitchcock made against him, including the racial make-up of his police department, which is 55 percent African American. During Mayor Young's time in office, between 1974 to 1994, 95 percent of the force was Black.
"Many African-Americans don't want to be police officers," he added. "So we go through great pains to try and encourage, embrace and we do a lot in the African-American community in terms of recruitment."
“Have any of these people ever come to me and suggested ways we can improve? Have they ever done anything to help recruit Black officers? The answer is no,” Craig added. “Instead, they come out with this offensive, racist garbage. It’s not OK for anyone to call me a Sambo.”
Hitchcock responded to the officials' reactions, stating, “There’s more he can do to get Black people on the police department. He can recruit, set up a school for cadets, summer programs for young people.”
She also added that she didn't take back her statements and did it precisely to gain the attention the issues and the officials deserved.
"If you can't find Black police officers, you're a Sambo," Hitchcock continued. "If you turn Black people's water off in the city of Detroit, you're a Sambo."
In 2017, Detroit’s childhood poverty rate was 48.2 percent, according to the U.S. Census.
While on the Riddle at Random radio show, Hitchcock propositioned the police chief to meet her at a specific location to debate the issues.
"He wants an apology? We need to have a discussion," she said. "Bring the whole 150 nominees for the Sambo Dinner, bring the mayor, Mayor Duggan, bring Gary Brown."
Brown's office reportedly declined the invite, but Hitchcock and the Call Em Out Coalition say they are far from done.
Watch Police Chief Craig's rebuttal below:
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