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Column: The candidate courting Trump has told Michigan voters everything they need to know

Former Detroit Police Chief James Craig speaking at an event
James Craig, a former police chief in Detroit who was with the LAPD for decades, is vying to unseat Michigan’s governor next year.
(Paul Sancya / Associated Press)

Exit polls showed no one disliked Donald Trump more in 2020 than Black voters. Only about 12% backed him. In Michigan, Trump performed even worse, attracting 7% of the Black vote.

So what is James Craig, a Black Republican from Detroit running for governor in Michigan, saying by meeting with Trump and seeking an endorsement?

Craig, a former Detroit police chief who was with the LAPD for 28 years, joined 11 other Republicans looking to unseat Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in 2022. In explaining why he was running, Craig said: “Look at our country. We’re divided. Look at our state. People are so … dissatisfied and sick of politics. They want leaders that will get it done and get it done with integrity.”

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That all sounds good. But he also said, “I welcome support from President Trump.”

That does not.

Now, I do not believe Black people should vote only for Democrats. I certainly have voted for others. In fact, the first time I cast a ballot for a Republican was in the 1998 gubernatorial election in Michigan.

It’s not Trump’s party that makes him radioactive to Black voters. It’s his record — stuff such as telling a violent white supremacist group to “stand back and stand by.” That’s not partisan; that’s just racist.

You may recall that after the FBI revealed a plot to kidnap Whitmer, Trump not only egged on chants of “Lock her up” at a Michigan rally but added, “Lock them all up.” Nothing says integrity like (again) expressing a desire to imprison political opponents.

Finally, after the election, we saw Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Though that lawlessness would seem to make a Trump endorsement unappealing for someone who spent his life in law enforcement, it’s the fact that 93% of Black Michigan voters rejected Trump that makes me wonder about Craig’s strategy.

Why would a Black man go out of his way to turn off Black voters by seeking the approval of someone known for indulging white supremacists? I get that Trump is a popular figure whose endorsement may help him win. But at what cost? After all, there are other Republicans Craig could reach out to for support. The kind who didn’t see “very fine people” among torch-carrying antisemites yelling, “Jews will not replace us,” in Charlottesville, Va.

But then again, Craig is the man who denied widespread racism in the Los Angeles Police Department, despite complaints from fellow Black officers, the Rodney King video and a ruling from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing that found the LAPD systematically prevented Black candidates from being promoted. Craig said at the time: “The opportunity for a Black to be promoted in this department is as good as it can be.”

This perspective seems fairly consistent with how he handled two types of demonstrations in 2020 while he was police chief in Detroit. He instructed officers to use rubber bullets and tear gas on Black Lives Matter protesters, but when Trump supporters tried to force their way into an absentee ballot counting center, he opted not to resort to such measures, calling the scene “peaceful.”

In September 2020, a federal judge ruled that Craig’s officers had used excessive force against Black Lives Matter protesters. In the spring, he voluntarily retired from the force.

In a lot of ways, Craig is a strong candidate for governor, someone who grew up in Michigan and brings years of leadership experience. He’s been in law enforcement since 1977. Before returning to Detroit, he was the chief in Cincinnati and in Portland, Maine.

But he can’t run as the law-and-order candidate if he’s allying himself with Trump. The former president has a well-documented history of encouraging the kind of violence police officers are tasked with stopping.

In one instance, when confronted by a heckler at one of his rallies, Trump alluded to “the old days,” saying: “You know what they used to do to guys like that when they were in a place like this? They’d be carried out on a stretcher.”

I wonder which old days he’s referring to.

I wonder whether Craig, who was a young police officer when Trump was sued by the Department of Justice for housing discrimination in the 1970s, cares enough to ask.

I wonder whether the only things that matter to him are the endorsement, the election, himself.

Don’t bother answering that. Craig already has.

@LZGranderson


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