Controversial Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) told Detroit's police chief he should use only black people as analysts for the city's facial recognition system because white people "think African Americans all look the same."
Tlaib made the suggestion during a tour of Detroit's Real Time Crime Center, which utilizes facial recognition software in conjunction with live video footage from cameras across Detroit to track down criminal suspects.
"Analysts need to be African Americans, not people that are not," Tlaib told Detroit Police Chief James Craig, the Detroit News reported.
"I think non-African Americans think African Americans all look the same," she explained. "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."
However, Craig — who is black — did not buy what Tlaib was selling.
"I trust people who are trained, regardless of race; regardless of gender. It's about the training," he told the congresswoman.
Later, the police chief expressed outrage over Tlaib's comments and the suggestion that analyst competency extends only toward one's race.
"It's insulting," Craig said, the Detroit News reported. "We have a diverse group of crime analysts, and what she said — that non-whites 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."
Tlaib was offered a tour of the center after she criticized the Detroit Police Department in August, saying the agency "should probably rethink this whole facial recognition bulls**t."
How did Tlaib respond?
When questioned by a reporter if she believes white people are not qualified use the facial recognition system, Tlaib said, "I think there has actually been studies out that it's hard for — African Americans would identify African Americans, or Latinos, same thing."
Later, Tlaib's spokesman Denzel McCampbell pointed the Detroit News to a study showing that facial recognition analysts are less accurate when analyzing people of a different race.
"The studies [that Tlaib mentioned are] related to cross-race effect or other-race effect," McCampbell said. "This has shown that individuals are less accurate when identifying people from a race other than their own.
"Detroit has a black population of more than 80%, so that is where her basis came from and what she was trying to convey when it comes to accurate identification," McCampbell explained.
How does the system work?
Despite Tlaib's race concerns, Michigan State Police Lt. Michael Shaw told the Detroit News that facial recognition software does not take into consideration one's race.
"The software doesn't work on gender or race; it works on facial measurements," Shaw told the Detroit News.
"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," he explained.
Shaw also took a dig at Tlaib, saying that her concerns revealed her racial implicit bias.
"There's implicit bias in everything we do," he said. "You just heard it in [Tlaib's] comments.