Rashida Tlaib Said Facial Recognition Tech Analysts Should Be African American. Detroit Police Chief Called Her ‘Racist’

Isheka N. Harrison
Written by Isheka N. Harrison
Facial Recognition Technology
Detroit Police Chief James Craig said U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib was racist after she said only Black people should analyze facial recognition technology. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. speaks to constituents in Wixom, Mich., Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

All Black people look alike, right? Wrong. But according to Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, it is a common-held belief by non-Black people that could build bias into Detroit’s facial recognition criminal ID program. Her solution: hire Black people to analyze the faces of Black people. The Black police chief’s response: Tlaib is racist.

Tlaib made the comments Sept. 30 during a tour of Detroit’s Real Time Crime Center where the facial recognition program is operated, according to CNN. She made the visit at the invitation of Detroit police after she said they needed to rethink the facial recognition program on Twitter.

In a video captured by The Detroit News, Tlaib told Craig “Analysts need to be African Americans, not people that are not.” She added, “It’s true … I think non-African Americans think African Americans all look the same.”

She added that she sees Black people being confused for one another “all the time,” even in Congress. “I’ve seen it even on the House floor. People calling Elijah Cummings ‘John Lewis,’ and John Lewis ‘Elijah Cummings,’ and they’re totally different people,” Tlaib said.

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Police Chief James Craig responded, “I trust people who are trained, regardless of race, regardless of gender, it’s about the training.” Later during an interview he expressed his frustration with Tlaib’s comments.

“The fact that she made that statement, what does that say to the members of this department who are analysts, who are trained, who are white … that they in some way can’t do their job professionally. That’s insulting,” Craig said. “As a police chief who happens to be African-American in this city, if I made a similar statement people would be calling for my resignation right now.”

Despite backlash from Craig and others, Tlaib stood by her comments “that facial recognition technology is broken.” In a series of tweets, she reiterated that facial recognition technology’s dependence on human input could cause many Black people to be falsely accused of crimes.

“Because this technology is untested, it will rely on real people to make judgments about whether someone is a match. Scientific research about the cross-race effect shows that people are less accurate in judging faces of people of a different race,” Tlaib said. She said having Black people ID Black people makes “a huge difference” and added evidence-based articles to support her position.