DETROIT, Mich. – A meeting of the Board of Police Commissioners in Detroit turned ugly when police officers were forced to arrest one of their own, escorting Commissioner Willie Burton from the gathering in handcuffs.

It all started simply enough. The commissioners were involved in a number of recent hearings about department’s deployment of facial recognition software, which police have been using for credible terrorist threats or to further investigate violent crimes after the fact.

An irate crowd gathered at Friday’s hearing to protest the use of the software, some going so far as to wear masks. Critics of the technology say it opens the door for police abuse. The group of commissioners gathered to vote on whether to support the technology, but it was put on hold so more research can be done.

Commissioner Willie Burton (Screenshot – YouTube)

 

As the meeting began, Wayne Circuit Judge Craig Strong swore in Lisa Carter as the new board chair. Commissioner Willie Burton, who reportedly quarreled with the previous chair, began asking what Carter would do differently than former chairman Willie Bell.

Burton has reportedly complained a number of times that former board chairman Willie Bell wasn’t giving him the chance to speak during meetings.

When Burton continued to raise his voice, Carter tried to pull on the reigns.

“You are out of order,” Carter told Burton multiple times. Burton reportedly ignored her commands and continued to raise his voice, even to the point of shouting.

Burton continued to reach for the microphone as officers tried to take him into custody. (Screenshot – YouTube)

 

“Out of order? No, I wasn’t out of order,” Burton said in an interview Friday. “I was acknowledged by the chair, and I asked her what she would do differently that she didn’t do before. The next thing I know, I’m being arrested.”

When he wouldn’t listen to her requests, Carter called on the officers inside the room to take escort Burton from the room. 

The video captured at the scene shows Burton sitting by his microphone continuing to yell as officers attempted to put him in handcuffs. Other officers had to hold back the angry crowd who swore and cried out about democracy.

 

Assistant Chief David LeValley said Commissioner Burton was charged with disorderly conduct and taken to the Detroit Detention Center.

“He was asked several times to be quiet, and I finally told him if he didn’t he would be arrested,” he said. “But he kept shouting. I think our officers showed great restraint tonight.”

Commissioner Willie Burton said on Friday that the experience taught him a lesson: “Jail is not pretty,” he said. But he also chastised the actions of the Detroit Police.

Burton called it “an inhumane experience; something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”

“I was handcuffed and taken to jail for trying to speak during a meeting,” he said. “They’re shutting down democracy. It’s a dangerous time in Detroit right now.”

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Burton spoke out following the incident, saying he was shocked by the officer’s “Gestapo tactics” as they removed him from the council meeting and placed him under arrest.

But the Detroit Police Chief says that he stands by the actions of his officers and noted that people who violate decorum within city meetings are subject to be punished for acting out.

Chief James Craig condemned Burton’s comparison of his officers to the Gestapo. 

“We vehemently support the constitutional right of free speech — but there comes a point during a meeting where it exceeds what’s defined as free speech, and it becomes disruptive,” he said.

Craig said that Burton was not the only one to be arrested for disrupting one of these kinds of meetings. A man was arrested last week for repeatedly interrupting a Detroit Charter Revision Commission meeting.

 

“We don’t want to arrest anyone,” the chief said. “However, we will arrest when it’s lawful to do so, when it’s necessary. Our primary objective is that these meetings are conducted in an orderly fashion. It’s OK to have a differing opinion, but you can’t become disruptive.”

The board went back to covering routine issues after Burton was removed from the meeting, including the heavily debated facial recognition software issue. Craig said he understood that the public felt strongly about the vote, but order still needs to be maintained.

“It’s an emotional issue,” he said. “And I don’t have a problem if people disagree with facial recognition technology. That’s how a free society works, and I welcome opposing views — but you can’t just interrupt meetings like that.” 

Burton called the facial recognition software “techno racism.”

“What happens when this technology misidentifies a person of color that doesn’t have the resources for a good legal defense? These are serious issues,” Burton said.

He is now due in court July 25 to face disorderly conduct charges. If found guilty of the misdemeanor, he faces up to 90 days in jail, a fine of up to $500, or both.

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