A Michigan police chief will keep his job after he was exposed as the author behind inflammatory tweets about the anti-police brutality unrest sweeping the US in the wake of George Floyd's death.
At a meeting on Tuesday night, city trustees voted to suspend Robert J. Shelide for 30 days without pay from his post as chief of police in Shelby Township, an affluent Detroit suburb of more than 80,000 people.
He will also be required to undergo training in cultural awareness and de-escalation.
Before the board voted, Shelide told trustees that his tweets had been taken out of context and he was only referring to violent actors and looters when he referred to them as "barbarians," "wild savages," and "subhumans" who belonged in body bags.
"I clearly understand the heat that's been put on our community," Shelide said at Tuesday's meeting, which was held on Zoom due to the pandemic. "I don't deserve to lose my employment over this. People deserve a second chance. My words were hurtful to some, but many others understood what I said."
"I am not a racist," he insisted.
Shelide said he was particularly incensed by video of an assault on a pair of elderly shopkeepers in Rochester, New York. He called for people to have compassion for the woman victim in that attack as they considered his tweet reading, "Body bags for these vicious subhumans."
But one resident on the Zoom call then changed their profile message to read, "Nothing says compassion and fairness like the threat of body bags."
The Rochester incident was not the only thing Shelide was tweeting about from @sheepdawg711, an account on which he had previously identified himself as the town's chief of police but which he then made private in May.
Other tweets from Shelide compared coronavirus lockdown measures in Michigan to Nazi Germany, told Brooklyn's district attorney to "shut up, you libtard," and said videos of authorities kneeling in solidarity with protesters made him want to vomit. "We have lost the country to bottom feeders, savages, and weak anarchists," he wrote.
Shelide told the city supervisors he deserved a second chance and was not a racist.
"I am being crucified unjustly," he said, blaming "keyboard warriors on social media."
Members of the public also called into the hourslong meeting to advocate for and against Shelide.
The seven members of the Shelby Township Board of Trustees, none of who are Black, ultimately voted 5–2 for Shelide to remain in his post.
But Supervisor Rick Stathakis was among those who was most critical of Shelide and wanted him replaced. "He clearly cannot be trusted to enforce the law impartially as much as he may try," Stathakis said.
"What sort of message does it send if board members allow Chief Shelide to keep his position?" he added.
Last week, Detroit police Chief James Craig, who is Black, told Fox2 Detroit that his counterpart in Shelby Township was a "disappointment" to police everywhere. "There is that whole adage of tone set from the top, so if this how he feels, how does the men and women in his department feel?" Craig said. "If he can just publicly and blatantly make statements like that, he is a disappointment to myself and all of my colleagues across this country that wears the badge of chief of police."
Dan Lippitt, a photojournalist turned commercial photographer who first shared screenshots of Shelide's tweets on Facebook, told BuzzFeed News he did not believe the punishment was appropriate.
"Slap on the wrist. He showed no remorse. Fix was obviously in," said Lippitt.
"Shelide says his comments were directed at violent looters and were misworded but justified. Like that somehow makes it okay. When did cops become Judge Dredd?" he said. "Aren’t they supposed to arrest people and allow due process?"