Detroit, Emergency Managers, Racism — October 12, 2013

Detroit Emergency Manager appointee: “Can I shoot someone in a hoodie?” Yeah, he’s a white guy.


Gee, why would ANYONE be offended by THAT?

After several years of rampant vandalism and arson on Devil’s Night (the night before Halloween) in Detroit, Mayor Dennis Archer created “Angels’ Night” in 1995 which enlisted the help of Detroit citizens in the evenings around Halloween to help law enforcement stem the tide. As part of Angels’ Night, city officials have traditionally participated by riding around the city as part of the neighborhood patrols to help keep the peace.

When recently-appointed Detroit Chief Financial Officer Jim Bonsall learned of this and learned of his expected role, he had no interest. He asked his staff if he couldn’t get a police escort, could he “shoot someone in a hoodie?”

Here’s how it went down, as described in a letter of complaint (pdf) penned by Cheryl Johnson, an African American woman who was demoted from finance director to city treasurer by Bonsall who is white:

On September 18, in a meeting atttended by Jim Bonsall, Chief Compliance Officer Gary Brown, Deputy Finance Director Michael Jamison and myself, a discussion ensued about Angels’ Night. I informed Jim, my immediate supervisor, of the fact that appointees patrol the three nights to help protect the City. He appeared smug as he made the comment that he shouldn’t have to participate since he was an appointer and not an appointee. He then asked if could have three police officers ride with him if he had to patrol. I informed him that we ride with either a colleague, a family member or a friend. Jim stated that he wouldn’t subject his family to that and then said, “can I shoot someone in a hoodie?”

This incident is just one of many described by Johnson her letter which is a riveting read. Bonsall has obviously assumed his position with a gigantic chip on his shoulder and an assumption that everyone in the Detroit city government is incompetent and deserving of his derision. He has, according to Johnson, exhibited a pattern of disrespectful behavior that she says amounts to harassment.

It’s clear that Bonsall, who is the Chief Financial Officer for the largest city ever to go through a Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy, does not view City workers as people who should be treated with dignity and respect. He has come in from the outside and, in classic Snyder administration style, acted in a way that is not only counter to forming a true partnership, but actually creates an antagonistic relationship between City workers and the outsiders sent in to “fix things” for them.

Bonsall has now been suspended with pay by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr who appointed him to the position in July.

Bonsall released this statement:

I apologize and am sorry for having offended coworkers over comments I made during a recent meeting. Regardless of the outcome of the internal investigation or whether I keep my job as a result of it, it was never my intention to offend anyone.

If it wasn’t his intention to offend anyone, then he is simply too insensitive to be in the position of power he’s in as the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan try to work together to move forward resolving the city’s financial crisis. The last thing they need is someone with this attitude and this profound lack of understanding about working together.

Jim Bonsall should be fired.

[Photo credit: Anne C. Savage, special to Eclectablog]

  • kirke123

    where is this all going? how are the courts allowing the emergency manager to have standing? has everyone given up the fight? detroit needs stimulus not a prince john! i am sadden by the lack of interest in the courts and the corporate take over of this once thriving and historical community.
    whats next for our state?
    where are the demonstrations?
    how dare and shame on all of us to allow this tragedy and these racial assaults on its citizens.
    all actions taking place in detroit is a direct attack to our democracy and must be stopped.

    • I gotta tell you that I’m about sick of hearing people say, “Why isn’t someone else doing something about this?”

      Step up and show some leader ship of your own or step down. You’re in Michigan and Traverse City is only a few hours from Detroit. Why aren’t YOU doing something? Lead a march. Organize a rally. Quit waiting for others to do it for you if it’s so important to you.

      • kirke123

        i’m involved with the dem party in traverse city, i’m involved with teacher retirement, i’m involved with local government both village and county, i’m involved with helping to improve services.
        i’m not complaining i was looking to you for info to those questions and i feel your frustration as well as mine.peace

  • mwm341

    Bonsall shouldn’t be fired yet. He should be suspended without pay until we find something big enough to fire him from. :-)

  • Yup

    You know, this is part of why Detroit is where it is in the first place. Bonsall had the idea the Detroit city government was incompetent? Well gee, if they weren’t he wouldn’t be there in the first place! The guy had a clue, congratulations! When has the city’s government ever been known to churn out anything outside of mindless squabbling and wasted time? This is a fine example of why: they’d rather piss and moan over what’s racist and what’s not while a slew of massive problems for the city looms overhead. He creates a hostile work environment? Good! Maybe it’d light a fire inside and shed some light over how petty it is to make something like this an issue (especially since the comment made sheds some light on how screwed up of a situation the Martin case was, that is, if you’re not too busy getting too butthurt to do your job and not waste more of your city’s money on a playground investigation). Detroit realllly needs to get these ‘race issues’ out of it’s head as they are self-preserved.

  • Pingback: Detroit CFO who asked if he could “shoot someone in a hoodie” resigns | Eclectablog()