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Michigan officials respond to cries for social justice, understand the need for change and sympathize with the outrage: ‘As a black man in America, it is hard enough to breathe on most days’

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Protesters in Grand Rapids on May 30, 2020 after outrage over racial disparities come to a head following the death of George Floyd (Sabrina Edwards/The Collegiate)

During a press conference Monday afternoon, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the “systematic injustice” that black people face – both with the coronavirus health pandemic and racism – and said she supports “real, structural change” in America. The pain people are feeling is “understandable and justified,” she said.

These comments were made following a night of protesting turned rioting under the cover of darkness on Saturday evening in Grand Rapids after a silent march was organized in opposition to police brutality and racism.

On May 25, George Floyd, a 46-year-old black Minnesota man, was killed by the knee of a white police officer pressing against his neck as the officer was attempting to arrest Floyd. The video from a bystander went viral and since then, outrage, calls for justice, and protesting have swept the country. 

Whitmer, along with Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, denounced people who are “under the guise of support but who are instigating violence and vandalism.” They encouraged “peaceful demonstrators” to maintain social distancing measures while expressing their outrage. Whitmer said she has a “high” level of concern that COVID-19 will spread during these demonstrations. 

“We must all, collectively, be the solutions to the problems that we are confronting,” Whitmer said. “We’ve got to summon the courage and the self discipline to confront these crises in nonviolent ways so that we can be impactful and make the changes we want to see. Keeping the focus on justice for George Floyd and his loved ones, and those who came before him, and the many of whose names we may or may not know.” 

Whitmer encouraged “everyone to be safe” and organizers to outline a route and time frame for peacefully protesting that can keep. She also suggested that the voting ballot is a great place to make a difference. 

Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist addressing social injustice, racial disparities, and protesting during a press conference Monday afternoon (courtesy photo)

“We will get through this,” Whitmer said. “We will see real change when we lock arms together and work together.”

Mentioning a phone call that governors had with the White House administration, Whitmer said she was “deeply discouraged” when President Donald Trump suggested that governors should “dominate protestors or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks.”

Whitmer said she believes the “dangerous” comments made by the president will “sow seeds of hatred and division in a time where we need to bring the temperature down.” 

“As a black man in America, it is hard enough to breathe on most days,” Gilchrist said. “The last few months this has become even more difficult. The scab covering the wounds of oppression has once again been ripped off.” 

Black communities are mentally, emotionally, and physically exhausted from racial oppression, Gilchrist said, pledging to work towards changes. 

“As we march, we need to think about what we need to do to become further engaged,” Gilchrist said. “As we get engaged, we need to think about what we need to do to get our voices heard. And as we make our voices heard, we must think of what we need to do to take this energy everywhere from our census forms to the ballot box. This is why representation matters. We cannot do this alone.” 

Gilchrist also criticized the response from the president and top officials. 

“When our nation is at its greatest need for a unifying voice, the rhetoric from our nation’s highest office have been one of division, distraction, and destruction,” Gilchrist said of the “tremendously tumultuous” time America is facing.

The governor said she has been “very troubled” by the violence and damages that people have inflicted under the concealment of social justice.

“There’s people with different agendas who are abusing someone else’s pain in order to inflict damage on a community and I don’t think that’s acceptable,” Whitmer said.