Dems: Systemic racism is ‘government oppression’

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    State Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) took to the Senate floor Wednesday to speak out about government oppression, following the killing of George Floyd, a 45-year-old African American from Minneapolis after a police officer pinned a knee on his neck.

    “America has changed. The murder of an unarmed Black man at the hands of four police officers has changed us forever,” Santana said. “This past week, we have witnessed countless protests, rallies and cries for justice. While George Floyd’s death is devastating, it has, however, awakened the American consciousness, a consciousness that has allowed years of government arrogance and neglect to build into government oppression.”

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    Santana listed a number of statewide issues that have disproportionately affected Black Michiganders, including the Flint water crisis, the “right to read” suit for Detroit students, COVID-19 and racist symbols allowed in the State Capitol building.

    “The voices we heard say something that we have been ignoring for decades. These voices told politicians to stop turning a blind eye to injustice, hatred and intolerance. That is government oppression,” Santana said. 

    A number of bills have been introduced in the House and Senate in recent days that center around topics of police reform and racial injustice. 

    State Sen. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) has introduced Senate Bill 945, which would require that all incoming law enforcement officers complete training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques, and mental health screening. 

    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signaled her support of Irwin’s legislation Wednesday in  and called on the Legislature to take action on it. The bill is currently in the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety.

    State Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), who co-sponsored the bill, also took to the Senate floor Wednesday. 

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    Last week, when I signed on as a co-sponsor of legislation by my good colleague, [Irwin], George Floyd was still alive. By the time the bill, SB 945, was read-into the record here in this chamber, he was dead,” Brinks said. 

    Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit) introduced a concurrent resolution that isn’t yet online. It would declare racism a public health crisis in Michigan and would develop a strategy to “address, fund and support solutions that strategically reduce the long-term impact that racism has on the quality of life and health for citizens of color.”

    “To my colleagues who feel that the government is oppressing you, I simply ask you to listen to those voices of the generation behind us, those voices across this nation,” Brinks said. “Perhaps you can understand what it’s like to be Black in America, and be faced with a real government oppression.”

    Advance reporter Laina G. Stebbins contributed to this story.

    Allison Donahue
    Allison Donahue covers education, women's issues and LGBTQ issues. Previously, she was a suburbs reporter at the St. Cloud Times in St. Cloud, Minn., covering local education and government. As a graduate of Grand Valley State University, she has previous experience as a freelance researcher for USA Today and an intern with WOOD TV-8. When she is away from her desk, she spends her time going to concerts, comedy shows or getting lost on hikes in different places around the world.