Gov. supports ‘the spirit’ of defunding police, investing in social services

Lansing police brutality protest, May 31, 2020 | Anna Liz Nichols

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said Tuesday that she supports “the spirit” of calls to defund police departments and reallocate the funds to social services as cities across the country continue to protest the alleged killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.

Whitmer made the remark during an interview with The Root that was broadcast on Instagram Live.

“You look at budgets and they’re focused on policing — they should be focused on education, transportation, access to health care, access to skills and leveling the playing field,” Whitmer said. “If you do all those other things, you don’t need all the money going to the police departments. So yeah, the spirit of it, I do support that spirit.”

Whitmer later clarified that she agrees with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, saying, “We’re not going to defund all the police, but we’re going to make investments in people. And that’s what this is all about.”

Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox said in a statement that Whitmer’s remarks are in line with her previous line-item vetoes of the state budget.

“It [is] no shock to me that Gretchen Whitmer wants to cut money for policing. After all, last year, she used her line-item veto to cut millions meant for local law enforcement in the state budget,” Cox said. “While we need to ensure the proper steps are taken with our police departments to protect all citizens equally, we must never forget the important job that the men and women of law enforcement do to safeguard our communities.”

Whitmer said she would still promote reforming police departments, including through implicit bias training and body cameras, even if it meant additional funding was needed to implement the programs.

Increased police training bill passes unanimously through Senate

The Michigan Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 945 last week to require law enforcement officers to be trained on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screening. Whitmer supports the bill.

Democrats in the state Senate and House introduced resolutions this week to declare racism a public health crisis, citing the disproportionate effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on communities of color.

Dr. Joneigh Khaldun, the state’s chief medical executive, has previously said that “racism is absolutely a matter of public health, and as a society we must do better.”

Whitmer told The Root she would be open to the idea of ending qualified immunity for police officers and other government officials, in which they are protected from civil liability for actions performed in their official capacity unless they violate a clearly established law or constitutional right.

“I think that is something we need to look at,” Whitmer said. “This blanket immunity feeds into the notion that there aren’t consequences. I think there’s something that makes sense in that space.”

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash at New Holland Brewing in Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (L-Cascade Twp.) introduced legislation last week to end qualified immunity. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) is a co-sponsor of the bill.

“Qualified immunity protects police and other officials from consequences even for horrific rights abuses,” Amash said. “It prevents accountability for the ‘bad apples’ and undermines the public’s faith in law enforcement. It’s at odds with the text of the law and the intent of Congress, and it ultimately leaves Americans’ rights without appropriate protection.”