Strong leaders follow a philosophical and moral compass for consistent decisions. Then there are wavering wafflers like James Craig, who swings like a weather vane in a breeze.
As Detroit police chief, Craig sent officers to disperse, tear-gas and arrest Detroit Will Breathe protesters who jammed streets and intersections two years ago. Now, as a political newcomer with dreams of governing Michigan, he supports the Freeedom Convoy protest that shut the Ambassador Bridge for five days.
"I stand with the truckers," the Republican candidate said in a statement Friday afternoon, hours before a widely anticipated Ontario court order authorizing police to end the Windsor traffic blockage. (Vaccine mandate protesters appeared to be dispersing gradually Saturday afternoon, though the bridge hadn't reopened.)
Craig didn't directly support defiance, but grabbed a political opportunity to declare himself on the side of "all working people who are standing up for personal freedom" and to accuse Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of "demonizing the truckers" protesting U.S. and Canadian vaccination proof rules for crossing borders.
The ex-chief suggests that Whitmer, President Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "should be focused on how their irresponsible pandemic response is hurting our economies."
"Instead of offering our equipment to help remove the trucks, President Biden and Gov. Whitmer should listen to the people and work with Prime Minister Trudeau to end the government mandates. ... I reject the notion that working people standing up for freedom are somehow the problem."
What a difference two years make.
When crowds gathered almost nightly in downtown Detroit for three months after a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in May 2020, Craig's force reacted forcefully. "What may have started as peaceful demonstrations against police brutality has often ended with protesters' eyes and lungs irritated from tear gas, bruised limbs and swollen wrists from too-tight zip ties," the Free Press reported after the first week brought nearly 400 arrests.
At times, police fired rubber bullets. Videos showed officers using force to move people.
"Every time we've had to use less-than-lethal force," Chief Craig said, "it's been to address violence by protesters, resisting arrest, or when they've tried to take over an intersection in violation of the law."
As in Windsor this week, that situation also provoked court intervention -- against the police here. Detroit Will Breathe won a 14-day restraining order in federal court that blocked Craig's officers from using rubber bullets, batons, chemical agents, choke holds, sound cannons, excessively tight plastic cuffs and mass arrests without probable cause.
"Let's all hop into the time machine and visit another group of people 'standing up for personal freedom.' Then Chief Craig had a different view," says a comment that links to a 21-minute video compilation posted last July by Detroit Will Breathe. "It displays the cruel behavior of the Detroit Police Department and the very brutality we continue to protest and fight against," the group says.
Street protests in summer 2020 and winter 2022 on each side of the Detroit River are distinctly different, certainly. Aggression by some participants two years ago seemed intended to provoke police, which didn't happen in Windsor.
Yet James Craig's pirouette in reaction to "working people standing up for freedom" looks like an ungraceful dance of political posturing.
→ Update: WIthout mentioning Craig, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman on Feb. 15 notes "the embrace of economic vandalism and intimidation by much of the U.S. right — especially by people who ranted against demonstrations in favor of racial justice. What we’re getting here is an object lesson in what some people really mean when they talk about "law and order."
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