Detroit Police Commissioner Willie Burton was yanked out of his seat and arrested during a public meeting Thursday because the chairwoman wanted him to stop talking.
Burton was trying to call out the Board of Police Commissioners for holding illegal committee meetings that neither he nor the public were allowed to attend. During one of those closed-door sessions, commissioners quietly hashed out a policy for the city’s pervasive and controversial facial recognition system.
But board chairwoman Lisa Carter didn’t want to hear it.
As three police officers dragged Burton to the ground, officers held back protesters, some of whom were wearing masks to show their opposition to facial-recognition technology.
At least one protester was arrested.
“Don’t touch me. Get your hands off me,” Burton told officers who surrounded him. “You do not have permission to touch me.”
While in the back of a police car, Burton said he wanted to “let my constituents known I am fighting for them.”
As Burton was hauled away and protesters were silenced, the board continued its meeting.
The board is expected to approve the city’s face-scanning system during next week’s meeting, despite mounting criticism from the public and plans by Congress to impose a moratorium on the technology.
A day before the meeting, state Rep. Isaac Robinson, D-Detroit, introduced a bill that would ban facial recognition technology for five years. The idea is to give lawmakers and experts time to research the technology’s flaws and whether it is unconstitutional.
Numerous studies have shown the system is racially biased. Researchers have found that the technology is more likely to produce false matches on people with darker pigment. Legal experts also say the technology is invasive and may violate people’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Despite those concerns, neither Mayor Mike Duggan nor police Chief James Craig has shown a willingness to study the issue further. In fact, police have used the system for two years without the police commission’s approval.
Last week, Craig told reporters he’s aware the system is not perfect.
“Is there a chance you may arrest the wrong person? Yes,” the chief said.
Burton, who wrote an op-ed for the Metro Times to explain his opposition to the technology, tells us that his arrest was an affront to democracy.
“This is dangerous,” Burton says. “The city of Detroit is a dangerous place to be right now whenever community activists and elected officials get arrested during a public meeting.”