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Two Black Detroit Officials Given ‘Sambo Awards’ by Black Activist ‘Outraged’: ‘We Don’t Deserve to Be Dragged’

Two officials in Detroit have taken major issue with a designation given to them by a local activist organization.

“Call ‘Em Out Coalition,” which is led by Black activist Agnes Hitchcock, hosted a dinner last week in honor of late former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young. During the event, the group handed the top two “Sambo Awards” to Detroit Water and Sewerage Department Director Gary Brown and Police Chief James Craig, according to various local reports.

The awards, which were announced at the Thursday, March 21, banquet, drew fierce criticism from the non-honorees.

Sambo Awards

Gary Brown (right) has been Director of Detroit Water and Sewerage Department since 2015. Police Chief James Craig (left) began serving the post after being in the same position in Cincinnati and Portland. (Photos: City of Detroit)

Brown told The Detroit News that he and others who were given the award “don’t deserve to be dragged through the mud like that. If these were white nationalists saying this, we’d be outraged — well, I am outraged no matter who said it. And, worse, I have to explain this to my grandkids.”

He has been handed the designation before back in 2013 when he was on City Council.

Craig, on the other hand, had much more to say. He held a press conference Monday, March 25 addressing the issue surrounding the racially offensive term derived from “The Story of Little Black Sambo,” an 1899 children’s book by Scottish author Helen Bannerman.

“If this had came from a white person calling an African-American police chief a Sambo, that would have been a problem,” he said at the presser.

“People would have been protesting just like people got highly upset — as they should — over remarks made by two of our officers who were recently fired,” Craig added of the termination of former Detroit Police Department officers Gary Steele and Michael Garrison, who were behind a racist Snapchat video.

“They would have been extremely upset because of that,” he said, deeming the awards “not acceptable.” “So, I think should we give them a pass because they’re African-American and they can make these racially insensitive remarks? I say they don’t get a pass.”

When asked about Craig and Brown’s negative feelings on the designation, Hitchcock told The Detroit News she stood by the awards.

“This was a celebration of Mayor Coleman Young’s life,” she said beginning to address the police chief. “He came into office when [police] were killing black men all over the city of Detroit. Today [Craig] lords over a police department that’s only 55 percent black and dropping, so he deserves that award.”

Data from Governing magazine states 62.2 percent of officers in the Detroit Police Department were Black in 2013.

Hitchcock also said Craig can do more to recruit Black officers.

“There’s more he can do to get black people on the police department,” she said. “He can recruit, set up a school for cadets, summer programs for young people.”

Addressing the water and sewage department director she added, “I’ve lost count of how many times the water rate has increased in Detroit. Gary Brown could use some more awards.”

Radio host and activist Sam Riddle, who emceed the dinner, also stood by the awards, which he said were meant to be provocative.

“The name is the manifestation of the desperation of the majority of Detroit,” he told Detroit News. “They keep running this [bulls—] about how Detroit is on the way back, when over 60 percent of Detroit children live in abject poverty. Why don’t [Brown and Craig] get upset about that?”

U.S. Census statistics released in September 2018 reveal that in 2017, Detroit’s childhood poverty rate was 48.2 percent.

Riddle added that Craig “should get upset that he has a police department that doesn’t reflect the demographics of the community.”

“Unapologetically, I was proud to emcee the Sambo Awards, to give light to the rampant racism and inequality in Detroit,” he said.

Speaking on concerns about the lack of Black people on the force, Craig said at the conference, “We work extremely hard in this police department to recruit Detroiters and African-Americans. But these same folks making these derogatory remarks haven’t offered any assistance. They sit back and make these inflammatory remarks.”

Chief Craig to provide comments regarding Detroit News article “Sambo Awards”

Posted by Detroit Police Department on Monday, March 25, 2019

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