Detroit police official James White tapped to lead state civil rights dept.

    James White | Detroit Police Department photo

    In a special meeting Monday, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission selected James White, second-in-command of the Detroit Police Department, to serve as executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR). 

    In the culmination of a process that lasted nearly one year, White was selected by a majority of the eight-member commission. Chair Stacie Clayton and Commissioners Ira Combs, Denise Grim, Laura Reyes Kopack and Jeffrey Sakwa voted in favor of his appointment. Zenna Elhasan, Portia Roberson and Regina Gasco-Bentley voted no on initial consideration and the confirmation vote. Seven candidates were considered. 

    “We had seven excellent candidates who represented diversity in gender, ethnicity, and experience,” Clayton said. “With our vote for James White as the next executive director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, the Commission has selected an experienced administrator to provide thoughtful, yet strong, leadership for the department and its employees.”

    She said White’s “guidance of the Detroit Police Department’s Civil Rights Integrity Bureau, along with his graduate level degrees in business and sociology, will allow him to lay the groundwork to move the MDCR into a new era.” Clayton added the commission will work with White to “create initiatives that will further our goal of making Michigan a more equitable, just and welcoming state for all.” 

    White, a Wayne State University and Michigan State University graduate, currently serves as the assistant chief of the Detroit Police Department. He is expected to begin the role on Sept. 21. His salary is $160,000 annually. 

    After delays, civil rights panel could name new leader next week

    Mary Engelman has been serving as MDCR interim director since November. She replaced Agustin Arbulu, who was fired in August 2019 after making objectifying comments to describe women to a male staffer, including, “Check out her ass.”

    In June, the only candidate in the running for the executive director position failed to secure a majority vote. A 4-4 tie meant that Harvey Hollins, an aide to GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder, would not serve as the department’s next leader. 

    The commission then reopened its search process.

    The Michigan Civil Rights Commission was created by the Michigan Constitution to safeguard constitutional and legal guarantees against discrimination. The body is charged with investigating alleged discrimination against any person because of religion, race, color or national origin, genetic information, sex, age, marital status, height, weight, arrest record, and physical and mental disability. MDCR serves as the operational arm of the commission.

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.