Ex-Detroit police Chief James Craig enters Michigan gov's race, attacks protesters for interrupting event

By James David Dickson and Craig Mauger

DETROIT — Former Detroit police Chief James Craig entered the 2022 Michigan governor's race Tuesday with a one-sentence kickoff announcement at Belle Isle, but then was interrupted by protesters from Detroit Will Breathe.

Craig was forced to change locations in Detroit to complete the announcement, which made him the most high-profile Republican so far to announce a campaign to challenge Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. For months, he's been exploring the possibility of a bid for the state's highest office and even described himself as "running" during a media appearance in July.

In a Detroit News interview before his stop at a second Detroit site, he accused the Michigan Department of Natural Resources of failing to take steps to protect him and his campaign team from demonstrators on Belle Isle, knowing "this group had the potential to become violent.”

But DNR spokesman Edward Golder said Craig's campaign did not request a security plan for the event and affirmed that its leaders understood that crowd control would be the responsibility of the campaign.

"Not on you guys," Craig campaign spokesman Ted Goodman said in a Tuesday text, obtained by The Detroit News, to a DNR official about the crowd control. "We know."

Just before the scheduled 10 a.m. announcement event, demonstrators took over the waterfront site chosen as its backdrop, with downtown Detroit in the distance.

About three dozen protesters marched to Belle Isle’s Sunset Point on foot, chanting: “Hey hey, ho ho, James Craig has got to go!”

Then the chant changed to: “James Craig is full of hate! We won’t let him win our state.”

Then there was a chant of “Black Lives Matter,” and it ended with “no justice, no peace. James Craig is still the police.” At one point, Craig advanced to a podium and spoke, announcing briefly that he was running. Then the demonstrators drowned him out and he departed.

A small chant of “Craig! Craig! Craig!” among supporters failed to pick up steam.

After relocating, Craig told The News he was disappointed the demonstrators didn't respect his First Amendment right to speak. "They wanted to disrupt the speech, and they did that," he said, adding they were "very aggressive with my staff."

But he said his "big disappointment" was with the DNR that runs Belle Isle, a state park.

“The DNR knew about the potential for protests yesterday, I’m told. ... They indicated they were going to come and move the protesters back," Craig told The News. "That never happened. So it makes me wonder if it was by design.”

A 44-year former law enforcement officer, Craig accused the DNR of having "no respect for my safety or the safety of my team. They would not show up knowing that this group had the potential to become violent.”

But he vowed he is "still going to get the message out."

But Detroit Will Breathe repeatedly called for Craig to be fired, alleging that Detroit officers used unjustified force during demonstrations.

A federal judge in September 2020 granted a temporary restraining order requested by the group that barred Detroit police officers from using certain tactics and equipment on "peaceful protesters" for 14 days, including the use of striking weapons like batons and shields and chemical agents (including, but not limited to, tear gas and pepper spray).

At a May 30, 2020, rally, some demonstrators threw objects at police, including small bricks, M-80 fireworks and rocks, Craig said at the time.

The DNR didn't immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment.

At the second press conference, Craig called the dissenters a “small group of paid protesters” who never should’ve been allowed to heckle his rally.

“I know who they are, and they know who I know who they are,” he said. “They do not represent the majority of Detroiters.”

Craig was asked how he knew the protesters were paid.

"Admittedly, I don't" have evidence of money changing hands, Craig said. He said he believed the 2020 protests, which popped up nationwide after Floyd's death, were organized.

On Twitter, Detroit Will Breathe claimed success. It posted a picture of the smaller, relocated press conference with the caption "Craig had to move his press conference to the balcony of a gentrification building."

The second press conference was held at The Icon at 200 Walker. The entrance to the riverfront building is gated. Not only did guards check IDs before cars were allowed admission, supporters and the media were escorted up to the eighth-floor balcony in small groups.

Patricia Pulliam, 77, said she is a lifelong Democratic voter, but will be making an exception in Craig's case.

"I have respect for him," Pulliam said during the protest delay. "He took care of this city as police chief and would take care of the state as governor."

The demonstrators used profanity in several chants, including one where they cursed both Craig and Mayor Mike Duggan. Pulliam, who attended the Belle Isle rally to hear Craig, wasn't a fan of the tactic.

"You can have a difference of opinion," she said, "but the language?"

In deciding to run, Craig said he visited several places that shaped him, including his childhood home, his alma mater of Cass Technical High School and the 10th Precinct, where Craig started his career as a Detroit cop in 1977 before being laid off.

When Craig found work again as a cop, it was with the Los Angeles Police Department. Craig stayed in LA from 1981 to 2009, according to his LinkedIn profile, before becoming chief of police in Portland, Maine and Cincinnati.

The former police chief touted his hometown as the creator of the American middle class and, during World War II, the Arsenal of Democracy. He said he was worried about Michigan under Whitmer, citing the many infrastructure challenges Detroit faces.

"You have to lead from the front, and that's not happening" under the governor, Craig said.

Carl Meyers of Dearborn started his workday late Tuesday in hopes of hearing Craig’s thoughts on the future and fiscal policy, before protesters interrupted the former chief on Belle Isle. Some of the protesters got gruff with Meyers.

“Don’t touch me!” he said to a few, as the group retreated, following Craig.

“It’s not right, in America, that somebody would be denied the right to speak,” Meyers said. “(The protesters) were able to be heard, and they should have let (Craig) be heard too.”

Craig was named as Detroit's top law enforcement official from May 2013 and served through June 1, when he retired.

He condemned the death in police custody of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May 2020. Most anti-police brutality marches in Detroit were peaceful. Craig generally received high marks from longtime Detroit civil rights activists.

During the candidacy announcement, the former police chief was asked about masking policies in Michigan schools. A variety of county health departments, including those in Wayne and Oakland counties, have imposed mask mandates for K-12 students, staff members and visitors to guard against COVID-19. In counties without health department mandates, some school systems have adopted mask requirements.

Craig said parents should be allowed to make that choice, not school systems.

He also questioned whether President Joe Biden’s vaccine mandate through a federal regulation for large employers was a slippery slope away from the American system.

“Making mandates for vaccines?” Craig said. “What are we becoming? Socialist? Communist?”

"Today, we officially kickoff our campaign for governor," Craig posted on Facebook Tuesday. "I'm excited to share our message of freedom, liberty and leading from the front."

Craig is one of 10 Michigan Republicans who have formed fundraising committees to run for governor next year or are in the process of doing so. The other candidates include Mattawan chiropractor Garrett Soldano, an anti-lockdown activist, and conservative commentator Tudor Dixon of Norton Shores.

The winner of the August 2022 primary will take on Whitmer, who is anticipated to run for reelection and is unlikely to face a viable primary challenger. She won her first term against then-Attorney General Bill Schuette by 9 percentage points in 2018.

Craig is drawing on his law enforcement background as a candidate. Last month, he assembled the Law Enforcement Action Team, a group of Michigan sheriffs and prosecutors, Democrats and Republicans, who this fall are expected to recommend new state laws "to support police," The Associated Press reported.

That group's work was announced the same day Whitmer announced plans to use $75 million of Michigan's American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief funds to bolster law enforcement. The governor is still negotiating with Republican lawmakers on the budget.

On Tuesday, the Michigan Democratic Party said Craig's announcement amounted to him "attempting to reboot his previously announced gubernatorial campaign after a months-long clunky rollout."

The Craig campaign had three stops planned Tuesday, including one in Grand Rapids. Because the Detroit stop ran long, the second stop in Flint was canceled, the campaign said.

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