Watching the George Cushingberry traffic stop reverberate through the media and social networking this morning is an illuminating experience. Nothing stirs the pot of Detroit politics like a public official giving traffic cops the business (see also: Christine “Do you know who the fuck I am?” Beatty). According to the Detroit Free Press, Cushingberry, 61, said a supervisor, who arrived at the scene, let him and his passenger go. He said the supervisor noted that the rum bottle was empty, that his friend had a medical marijuana card and told him, “Well, we’re not trying to ruin your career or anything.” That said, depending on which version of events you believe, Cushingberry was either driving a sick friend back from dinner, probably while on his way to midnight services, when he was brutally racially profiled by two evil white cops, or else he was drunk and high as hell, speeding away from a strip club when he almost sideswiped a Detroit police car and then flashed his council ID when he was pulled over, all the while smoking an enormous blunt of Sour Diesel.
That’s certainly the kind of mail we’re getting. It seems that, just a few days after Cushingberry’s traffic stop, everybody, from the police to Cushingberry’s acoloytes, knows exactly what the hell went down on Livernois Tuesday night. It exposes a lot of the fault lines of class and race in our region, saying a lot more about metro Detroiters as spectators than it does about Cushingberry or two traffic cops. Sure, it’s an ancient pastime, making fun of Detroit’s legislators, but it’s often a bit of old-fashioned racism in disguise.
Because some people are definitely unfair when it comes to the council. Comparisons of councilmembers to children, questions about individual members’ sanity, remarks about their sartorial style, these things obscure the very real positions, often progressive ones, that the council holds. It’s something of a double-standard in our town. L. Brooks Patterson can make borderline racist cracks about “Honkytown” and people chuckle as if grandpa had one too many shots of Wild Turkey and is talking out of turn. When George Cushingberry blames the media, something politicians have done since the First Amendment was ratified, he’s considered a loose cannon? When an attorney defends his rights as a citizen during a traffic stop, he’s a monster? If we’re going to demand high standards of our public officials, we need to have consistent standards to judge them against.
Now, all that said, there is something about Cushingberry’s sainted account of that night that simply doesn’t ring true. Namely this: We’ve driven in Detroit for years and years. We haven’t obeyed all the laws all the time, and we’re not defending that. But doesn’t it seem that Detroit cops have bigger fish to fry than simply stopping people who don’t signal a turn? We’ve seen people blow through lights, stop signs, “do not enter” signs. We’ve seen people drive the wrong way down one-way streets. Never once did we see a squad car flip on its lights and give chase. Hell, there are some spots in the city where you could do doughnuts in the goddamn intersection without officers of the peace intruding on your activities. So, doesn’t it sound a little odd that Detroit police officers would pull over his 1993 Buick Park Avenue for “fail to signal”?
To the experienced observer who knows what happens when councilmembers flash their identification at traffic cops, it would seem something more has happened here. And if people in the media (and in general) lampoon Detroit City Council as a romper room of misfits, chiselers and dullards, episodes like this certainly don’t help. Perhaps, Councilmember Cushingberry, you might spend a little more time in church and a little less time at the Penthouse Lounge, just for the time being?