On Raphael B. Johnson and the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners

Left: Raphael B. Johnson

A reader of this blog yesterday brought to my attention the proposed appointment of convicted murderer Raphael B. Johnson to the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners. My initial reaction was one of shock, as the idea of an ex-con weighing in on police matters seemed ludicrous. At first glance, this seemed like a story from The Onion or The Daily Show.

Johnson spent twelve years in prison after his conviction of second-degree murder in the death of Johnny Havard in 1992. Yet at some point during his incarceration Johnson decided to make something useful with his life, earning a B.A. in legal administration and a Masters of Arts in liberal studies from the University of Detroit Mercy. Johnson is a well known motivational speaker, and he also achieved a measure of fame on the Maury Povich program with his challenges to teenaged misfits about turning around their lives.

Yet there is the question of the conviction, and while I am not among those who scoff at Mayor Dave Bing's unconventional appointment, I think that Raphael Johnson's criminal record should disqualify him from the position. I am concerned that Johnson's appointment to the board of commissioners might seem an insult to the officers who put their lives on the line every day to uphold the law, and even more importantly, the city of Detroit already faces significant problems in its international image. Why compound these PR challenges by inviting ridicule from the political pundits and late night comedians?

I commend Raphael B. Johnson for becoming an exemplary citizen after his earlier criminal past, but the Detroit Police Department would face unnecessary distractions if Johnson's appointment is approved. Mayor Bing should find a more appropriate position for Johnson if he wishes to utilize his unique skill set, perhaps in a role where Johnson works with at-risk teens or paroled felons.