‘Can I shoot someone in a hoodie?’
CFO resigns following racial remarks
By Zenobia Jeffries
The Michigan Citizen
DETROIT — Detroit Chief Financial Officer Jim Bonsall resigned Oct. 15, after being suspended with pay last week for sexist and racist remarks in the workplace.
“It was never my intention to offend anyone,” Bonsall wrote in a press statement days before his resignation.
During a staff meeting about the upcoming Angels’ Night activities, which include city staff members patrolling the city to keep it safe from arson and vandalism Halloween weekend, Bonsall asked if he could “shoot someone in a hoodie.”
City treasurer Cheryl Johnson filed an internal complaint against Bonsall for his comments. Her written complaint also alleged the former CFO often demeaned female employees.
Bonsall’s comments sparked community outrage.
The day before his resignation, Michigan National Action Network and other local groups called on the mayor, city council, the emergency manager and Gov. (Rick) Snyder to remove Bonsall.
“Jim Bonsall should not be sent for vacation; he should be sent for termination,” said Rev. Charles D. Williams II at a press conference Oct. 14. “There’s no reason why someone who’s considered a public servant could make these remarks and go back to work.”
“There’s no reason we cannot have someone in that position who is sensitive enough to this community,” Williams said. “A community that’s over 86 percent African American. A community that had thousands of folks who marched and demonstrated against the verdict of Trayvon Martin’s (killer). A community that lives everyday under the threat of police brutality…”
Williams called Bonsall’s remarks, “insensitive,” inflammatory” and “racist.”
Rev. David Bullock of the Change Agent Consortium added the group is also calling for a zero tolerance policy for racist speech and demeaning language and any comments that will further divide the city.
“We should not be dividing ourselves, we should be building bridges so we all can benefit from the recovery,” he said. “The joke defense does not work. To demonized African American youth, to joke about the Trayvon Martin case, to take the gains we’ve made around Angels’ Night and somehow minimize the positive work of community leaders and to do that while being surrounded by African American women … to use this kind of language in that context and call it a joke … there’s nothing about working in the city of Detroit that licenses disrespectful behavior, there’s nothing about working in the city of Detroit that will allow anyone the leeway to joke about Trayvon Martin, to joke about Angels’ Night and to joke about women and somehow think that’s ok.”
Attorney Jerry Goldberg, Moratorium Now, said Bonsall’s comments, are indicative of the attitudes in Gov. Rick Snyder and EM Kevyn Orr’s administration.
“What those statements reflected was the broader colonial mentality that’s characterizing emergency management in this city, that’s characterizing the bankruptcy in this city,” Goldberg said. “Where they’re looting our city $62 million in fees, getting ready to take Belle Isle, take the workers’ pensions, eliminate the contracts.”
He added the comments are systematic of “this whole process that’s going on where people from outside, with their racist colonial mentality that are trying to take our city.”
During a formal council session Oct. 14, Council members JoAnn Watson and Brenda Jones expressed their discontent regarding Bonsall’s remarks.
Both were further enraged that he was still on the city’s payroll, although he, at the time, was suspended.
“This issue is tinged with racial overtones and violence,” Watson said.
EM Orr released a statement that he accepted Bonsall’s resignation and praised his work with the city in his short tenure. Orr appointed Bonsall in July.
“Jim has decided it is best for the city and himself that he resign his post effective immediately,” Orr said. “(He) has made great improvements in how the city handles cash and finance operations in the short time he has been here, but it is clear that new leadership is needed to continue to move the city of Detroit forward. I thank Jim for putting the needs of the City and its residents first, and for his dedicated service.” Orr’s office will conduct a search for a new CFO for the city.
Sara Wurfel, spokesperson for Gov. Rick Snyder, said the governor is “committed to changing the culture in government in Michigan and Detroit.
“We need to be focused on providing better service to our customers as we reinvent our state and its largest city. That includes treating everyone with the respect they deserve.
“The alleged comment is inappropriate and incredibly disturbing, if true,” she said.
Bullock said, following Bonsall’s resignation, the coalition is happy he has resigned. “Demeaning and disrespectful speech will not be tolerated by anyone. In light of the upset around the country regarding the Trayvon Martin case, Bonsall’s comments were highly insensitive to those that heard them and to people across the country.” His resignation is the best thing for the city and its residents, he said.
Donald Barnes contributed to this article.