Gilchrist talks about ‘pain’ of police brutality, Whitmer calls Trump comments ‘dangerous’

President Donald J. Trump waves as he prepares to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Wednesday, July 24, 2019, to begin his trip to West Virginia. | Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian via Flickr Public Domain

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday responded to President Trump’s demand for governors to crack down on people protesting police brutality, calling the president’s comments “dangerous” and “deeply disturbing.”

In a statement, Whitmer confirmed she had been on a Monday morning call with the president, other governors and law enforcement officials. During that call, Trump urged state leaders to take aggressive actions on protest participants or they would be “overridden.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer gives an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Trump pushed for aggressive action against protesters and told governors they need “dominate or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks; you have to arrest and try people,” according to an audio recording obtained by the Washington Post. 

The call followed several days of civil unrest in cities across the nation. People have taken to the streets to protest the death of George Floyd — a Black man who died while in Minneapolis police custody after an officer pinned him down by pressing his knee onto his neck. In videos, Floyd can be seen telling the officer he can’t breathe.

A private autopsy ordered by Floyd’s family and released Monday ruled Floyd died from asphyxia, or a lack of oxygen. These findings are different from a preliminary autopsy carried out by a county medical examiner, which claims no evidence of asphyxia or strangulation was found. 

Whitmer said the call was “deeply disturbing” and the president and his administration’s response to the situation is not what the nation needs right now. 

“Instead of offering support or leadership to bring down the temperature of protests, the president told governors to ‘put it down’ or we’d be overridden,” Whitmer said at a Monday news briefing. 

‘No justice, no peace’: Detroit rallies to protest Floyd killing

Trump “repeatedly and viciously attacked” governors who are doing everything they can to keep the peace while also working to save lives in a once-in-a-generation pandemic, she said. 

“It was galling because we are at a point in time where people need hope and unity and a strategy to pull people together and save lives, and I’m frustrated because what we see is rhetoric that feeds into that anxiety, that understandable exhaustion that my African-American friends talk about every time they talk — exhaustion is the overwhelming word that people use,” Whitmer said.

It is the antithesis of what the country needs at this moment, she added.

This comes after Trump has repeatedly claimed governors are to blame for problems in the response to COVID-19, not the federal government, despite well-documented failures in the White House and Trump administration. The president also has specifically called out Whitmer and even threatened to withhold aid.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist joined Whitmer at the conference, taking the podium to address Floyd’s death and the protests that have rocked Michigan cities and other states. Black people across the nation are suffering and suffocating from injustice that the nation knows all too well, he said. 

LG Gilchrist on Floyd protests: ‘To everyone who feels unheard, I hear you’

“We are simultaneously facing two of the most consequential crises of our lifetimes: COVID-19 and the persistence of police brutality,” Gilchrist said. “As always, the pain of the convergence of these crises is being felt by those in the communities that can bear it the least.”

Floyd’s final words have become a rallying cry for a nation that has not been able to breathe, he added. Black communities have been exhausted by generations of injustice and now, by a virus that is disproportionately affecting them, he said.

Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist talks about anti-police brutality protests and racism with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer looking on, June 1, 2020 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

“It is more important than ever that we dedicate each breath to peaceful action,” he said. “To the overwhelming majority of the people of Michigan who have taken this moment to demonstrate, who are doing so peacefully, through the peaceful and tactful nonviolence that has precipitated change throughout our nation’s history, thank you for stepping up in that manner.”

Gilchrist also thanked Dr. Joneigh Khaldun — the state’s chief medical executive — for her work on the state’s COVID-19 response. 

Khaldun also took to the podium to give her condolences to Floyd’s family.

“As a Black mother with three children, I know the distress of not knowing if someone will see your child’s life as less than valuable because of the color of their skin,” she said. “I’ve seen the disproportionate impact that racism has had on health outcomes for people of color, not because of genetic differences.”

Racism is absolutely a matter of public health, and as a society, we must do better, Khaldun said. 

“I stand with those who are peacefully striving to advance justice — not just for my children and family, but for Black and Brown people across the country,” she added.

Dr. Joneigh Khladun and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer give an update on COVID-19 | Gov. Whitmer office photo

Whitmer’s and Gilchrist’s own state saw unrest over the weekend. Large protests against police brutality took place in Detroit, Lansing and Grand Rapids. There was some vandalism and looting come nightfall. In Lansing, the car of a woman who tried to drive into Lansing protesters and a Michigan Advance reporter burned.

Asked if she believes her response to Trump will affect her relationship with federal counterparts — whom she and other state officials work with to coordinate Michigan’s receiving of COVID-19 pandemic supplies — Whitmer said working with them has so far been productive.

“By and large, they’re the same kind of dedicated public servants that state employees are and working with our counterparts has been productive,” Whitmer said. “Have we gotten everything we need? No. No state has.

“Am I afraid, by being critical of the White House, that that will preclude us? Listen, I have worked incredibly hard. They have been helpful, and I show my gratitude,” Whitmer added. “But when they’re wrong, I have a duty to say ‘We deserve better.’”