Detroit Police Chief Slams Rep. Tlaib as ‘Racist’ After Congresswoman Urges Him to Only Hire Black Analysts to Manage Facial Recognition Tech

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Detroit Police Chief James Craig on Monday rebuked comments by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who insisted that only Black analysts should be hired to the department’s facial recognition team because “non-African Americans think African-Americans all look the same.”

The congresswoman, an outspoken critic of the software and its propensity to misidentify people of color, made the controversial remarks during a tour of the Real Time Crime Center at DPD headquarters earlier this week, local station 7 Action News reported. She was given a firsthand look at how the city uses the technology to combat crime.

Detroit Police Chief James Craig Slams Rep. Tlaib's Comments as Racist
Detroit Police Chief James Craig slammed Rep. Rashida Tlaib for her assertion that the department’s facial recognition software analysts only be African-American. (Photos: FOX 2 Detroit / video screenshot)

Tlaib said facial recognition technology is “racist in itself.” However, Craig disagreed and slammed the lawmaker for suggesting he only hire analysts, whose job is to scrutinize the photos flagged by the software, based on their race.

“It’s a double standard,” Craig said, according to the outlet. “Certainly as the police chief of this city … if I had made a similar comment, people would be outraged and they would be calling for my resignation.”

When asked if he felt the congresswoman’s remarks were racist, the police chief said he did.

“I think they are racist,” he added. “I’m not going to try and understand why the comments were made. Let’s just simply say it was improper — it wasn’t right and we should be talking about other things.”

Despite the backlash, Tlaib, 43, said she’s standing by her words and even pointed to research backing up her argument, including 2018 MIT report that found the surveillance software “identifies a white man’s gender 99 percent of the time, [and] misidentifies darker skinned females nearly 35 percent of the time.”

In a similar study,  the National Institute of Standards and Technology concluded that facial recognition falsely matches the faces of African-American women almost 10 times as frequently as those of their white peers. To combat what’s been called “digital racism,” Tlaib highlighted research showing analysts who manage the software more accurately identify members of their own race.

“Analysts need to be African-Americans, not people that are not,” she argued. “No, it happens all the time, and it is true. I think non-African-Americans think African-Americans all look the same.”

“I’m trying to say it needs to be reflective and if you look at the video I think you can see I’m trying to respectfully disagree,” Tlaib added, according to FOX 2 Detroit.

The congresswoman, along with other Washington lawmakers, have raised concerns about facial recognition software, which has grown in popularity and use by law enforcement agencies across the U.S. In August, Detroit PD faced criticism from its own citizens after the department quietly installed cameras with the controversial software to assist in identifying suspects for arrests.

Many residents of the mostly-Black city decried the move, citing privacy concerns and police racial bias. Craig, who’s in favor of the technology, acknowledged the potential flaws but said the software is useful to investigators and that trained analysts would help fill the gaps. 

“That’s something we train for, and it’s valuable training,” he said. “But to say people should be barred from working somewhere because of their skin color? That’s racist.”

Watch more in the video below.

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