Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) on Monday urged the Detroit Police Department’s Real Time Crime Center, during a tour of the facility, to employ only black individuals to work as facial recognition analysts.
Tlaib told Detroit’s chief of police Chief James Craig, during the tour, that he should hire only black people as analysts to run their facial recognition software as she claimed that non-black people think they all look alike.
“Analysts need to be African-Americans, not people that are not,” Tlaib said. “It’s true, I think non-African-Americans think African-Americans all look the same,” she claimed saying she has witnessed people confuse Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), who both are bald, and of the same skin color.
“No, this happens all the time,” Tlaib said after Craig shook his head in disapproval at her demand. “It’s true. I mean, I think non-African Americans think that African Americans look the same.”
“I trust people who are trained, regardless of race, regardless of gender,” Craig responded calmly. “It’s about the training.”
“I understand the technology real well,” Craig explained, showing Tlaib how his analysts examine the software’s results before proceeding to conclusions.
“See if you can get some of our money back until they fix it,” Tlaib said.
Tlaib, when questioned further by The Detroit News’ reporter George Hunter regarding whether what she means is that African American individuals should be prohibited from identifying white individuals with the technology, Tlaib abruptly told him to “look it up” before walking away.
“[Rashida Tlaib], Before you criticize the software, come to our Real Time Crime Center to see how we [Detroit Police] responsibly use it in efforts to identify criminals involved in violent crimes,” the police department replied through its official Twitter account. “Let’s set a date.”
Tlaib, after being extended a tour of the crime center, blasted back at the agency saying it “should probably rethink this whole facial recognition [expletive].”
The day following Tlaib’s comments to the Detroit police chief, her spokesman argued in her defense saying she was attempting to convey the importance of accurately identifying black suspects in a city with an African American population of about 80 percent.
Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw explained to Detroit News that facial recognition software “doesn’t work on gender or race” but instead “works on facial measurements.”
“If you have a good photo, the photo array will come back with people with the same facial makeup, whether they’re male, female, black, white or whatever. It’s all about things like the spacing between the eyes, or where the ears are on the side of your head,” Shaw explained, despite Tlaib’s race concerns.
“There’s implicit bias in everything we do,” Shaw said, noting that Tlaib’s racial implicit bias is reflected in her speech. “You just heard it in [Tlaib’s] comments.”
“It’s insulting,” Craig said regarding Tlaib’s remarks. “We have a diverse group of crime analysts, and what she said—that non-blacks should not work in that capacity because they think all black people look alike—is a slap in the face to all the men and women in the crime center.”