“He’s definitely a politician. He was a politician here, and it’s expanded since he’s been in Detroit.” – LAPD Sgt. Jody Stiger
LANSING — When faced with a choice that would either elevate his profile or provide concrete leadership and results that count, James Craig opted for the former many times in his career according to reporting this week from Detroit Metro Times.
Chronicling several key moments for the recent retiree, the piece details Craig’s political calculus which dictated his every decision as he never passed up an opportunity to contribute to the “culture warrior persona” he cultivated. This often came at the expense of the well-being of his colleagues in the force and safety of the communities he served over his career in law enforcement.
As the brutal and widely-televised beating of Rodney King forced the Los Angeles Police Department to grapple with its treatment of Black people both outside and inside the force in the early 90s, James Craig saw an opening. Using his position as the LAPD officer at the head of an organization representing 500 Black police officers, Craig downplayed the racially abusive culture in which Black cops endured nooses and slurs and “were routinely denied promotions” while Chief Daryl Gates looked the other way.
Craig’s decision to maintain that “racism is not widespread throughout [LAPD]” prompted many Black officers to exit the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation and led to a flurry of discrimination lawsuits against the department, and also saw him quickly ascend the ranks as someone that wouldn’t ruffle feathers by calling out the rampant discrimination.
Decades later, Craig continued to prioritize his political profile over community safety as he flipped on his support for concealed weapons, approving permits he would’ve denied as LAPD chief as he settled into the same position for Portland, Maine’s department.
Now that he’s an official candidate for governor, Craig’s partisan transformation into “a politician now operating on the advice of handlers with their own PR calculus” is complete as he continues to refuse to answer questions during a bitter Republican primary that already features several radical purity tests he won’t be able to avoid.
Detroit Metro Times: How James ‘Hollywood’ Craig Hoodwinked Detroit
By Violet Ikonomova and Tom Perkins
In March 1991, the nation watched in horror as TV stations looped footage of mostly white Los Angeles police officers savagely beating Rodney King, a Black man pulled over for a traffic violation.
For many minority Angelenos, the incident came as less of a surprise: Frustrated community leaders detailed how the beating represented the culmination of the vicious and terrifying 13-year reign of white Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates, who downplayed it as an aberration.
But the controversy didn’t just highlight the LAPD’s strained relationship with minority communities — it also exposed racial tension simmering within the department. Minority officers alleged they faced frequent death threats from white coworkers who sent their messages with a noose, Ku Klux Klan calling card, and chalk body outline. They endured racial slurs like “monkey” or “burrito man,” and were routinely denied promotions by an almost exclusively white command staff — a claim supported by a state investigation.
For a moment, it seemed that King could jolt the department into confronting its internal friction. However, charges of systemic racism were dismissed by several Black officers, including one who held a key position and the media’s attention: Sgt. James E. Craig, Jr.
″I believe that there are individuals who have racist attitudes, but racism is not widespread throughout the department,″ Craig told reporters weeks after the beating. As president of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation, which represented 500 Black officers, his comments carried weight.
″The opportunity for a Black to be promoted in this department is as good as it can be,” he said. ″We believe that during the last 13 years, the chief has provided strong leadership.”
The controversial statement prompted many Oscar Joel Bryant members to quit the foundation, and a subsequent series of discrimination suits filed against the department and its union branded the LAPD “a bastion of white supremacy.” But backing the controversial chief with comments printed in newspapers across the country appeared to pay dividends for Craig’s career: He quickly rose through the ranks, and within a decade became one of few Black LAPD officers to make captain.
Had he spoken out about racial discrimination like others, then “it probably would have been a lot more difficult to get promoted,” said Jody Stiger, the current head of the Oscar Joel Bryant Foundation. “He’s definitely a politician. He was a politician here, and it’s expanded since he’s been in Detroit.”
In July, under the shade of oak trees at a Jackson park where the historic Republican Party was purportedly born, Craig touted its ties to Abraham Lincoln and delivered an abridged version of how he, a Black Detroiter who grew up in a family of Democrats, became a Republican.
It happened about 10 years ago in Portland, Maine, where, tasked with approving concealed weapons permits, he instinctively began denying them one-by-one, as he said was customary in L.A. That’s when staff intervened.
“They said, ‘Well, chief, we like our guns and we believe law-abiding citizens should have the right to carry,’” he explained in an interview ahead of the speech. “‘And you notice something else, chief — it’s safe in Portland … because criminals know … there’s a likelihood [we’re] carrying concealed.’”
“It just made sense,” he told the crowd before flashing the holstered weapon in his waistband to applause.
Both origin stories were rooted in myth. The Republican Party as we know it did not end slavery, given a realignment during the Civil Rights era, and the gut instinct underpinning Craig’s political ideology is a flawed one, as research has debunked the theory that more guns equal less crime.
We can look to Detroit for clues about how Craig might fare as a candidate, which is contingent on his pulling in votes from those who approved of him as chief. A recent Target-Insyght poll showed just 14 percent of likely Detroit voters would cast a ballot for him if the election were held immediately, while a separate poll showed 28 percent would consider his record as chief to make a decision.
But it’s more difficult to look to his past for what a broader policy agenda might hold.
Five years ago, before Craig’s audience had widened to include the right-wing, he told Yahoo News that the link between poverty, a sub-par education system, unemployment, and crime was “direct” — a seeming acknowledgement that structural change was needed to lift up residents in his hometown.
Since retiring to announce his candidacy, however, he’s scantly mentioned those issues — opting instead to peddle bromides about self-reliance. On the issue of crime, specifically — his lifelong charge, and among the greatest threats facing the city he hopes to leave for Lansing — he’s grown increasingly myopic, advocating only harsher penalties for those who break the law.
For now, Craig is primarily a law-and-order candidate who concedes he has a lot to learn. In June, he indicated an agenda was a ways off, as he was getting schooled on everything from “critical race theory” to “pro-life.” The comment came in an interview with conservative Detroit News columnist Nolan Finley, who, along with the hosts on Fox News, is among the few media figures Craig has opted to speak with during this question mark phase. He even announced his campaign on Tucker Carlson’s show.
Members of his party have started to take notice of how little he’s said in early stops in Jackson and Kent County, particularly on the false notion that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Trump, a divisive point for the GOP. Craig has come out as a two-time Trump voter, but will have to wage a balancing act to avoid alienating moderates, particularly those in Detroit.
And so it is that Hollywood Craig, once known for controlling his own narrative and never meeting a microphone he didn’t like, is suddenly unavailable. Swarmed by reporters after his Jackson speech, he ducked into a black SUV without taking questions, a politician now operating on the advice of handlers with their own PR calculus.