Politics & Policy

Tlaib Tells Detroit Police to Only Hire Black Facial Recognition Analysts

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, July 18, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) told Detroit’s police chief on Monday that the city should hire only black people to work with the department’s facial recognition technology since “non-African Americans think African-Americans all look the same.”

The Detroit-area Democrat made the comment to police chief James Craig, who is black, during a tour of the Real Time Crime center. The department invited her to take a tour after she criticized the city’s facial recognition technology in an August tweet, saying Detroit police “should probably rethink this whole facial recognition bull***t.”

“Analysts need to be African-Americans, not people that are not,” Tlaib said during the tour. “I think non-African Americans think African-Americans all look the same.”

“I’ve seen it even on the House floor: People calling Elijah Cummings ‘John Lewis,’ and John Lewis ‘Elijah Cummings,’ and they’re totally different people,” the progressive congresswoman continued, referring to two African-American members of Congress. “I see it all the time, and I love them because they go along with it.”

“I trust people who are trained, regardless of race; regardless of gender. It’s about the training,” Craig responded.

“I know,” Tlaib said. “But it does make a huge difference with the analysts.”

Tlaib said her comments referred to studies showing that people of one race are less likely to correctly identify individuals of another race.

“The studies [Tlaib referred to are] related to cross-race effect or other-race effect,” Tlaib’s spokesperson said in a statement. “This has shown that individuals are less accurate when identifying people from a race other than their own.”

“Detroit has a black population of more than 80%, so that is where her basis came from and what she was trying to convey when it comes to accurate identification,” the spokesperson added.

In an interview afterwards, Craig flipped Tlaib’s comments around on her, calling them racist and saying they may showcase a double standard.

“If I made a similar statement people would be calling for my resignation right now,” Craig said. “So is it a double standard?”

“It’s insulting,” the police chief said. “We have a diverse group of crime analysts, and what she said — that non-whites [sic] should not work in that capacity because they think all black people look alike — is a slap in the face to all the men and women in the crime center.”

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

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