Gretchen Whitmer’s Virtue Signaling Can’t Hide That Her Lockdown Strategy Has Failed

Gretchen Whitmer’s Virtue Signaling Can’t Hide That Her Lockdown Strategy Has Failed

Beyond focusing on social issues like racism, Whitmer’s new response plan for COVID-19 takes a more heavy-handed approach to force Michigan residents into compliance via state police.
Molly Davis
By

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has pulled yet another publicity stunt by declaring racism a public health crisis last Wednesday. To address it, she created the “Black Leadership Advisory Council” tasked with a number of goals, including identifying policies that negatively affect black Michiganders.

Additionally, all state employees will now be required to partake in implicit bias training to understand how their unconscious racism can affect others. This move is nothing more than virtue signaling to impress the public by using the latest newsworthy topics to grab their attention: racism and COVID-19. Whitmer is doing it not only to look good, but to distract from her failed coronavirus lockdown strategy.

Quick, Let’s Distract From My Failures

Whitmer’s stated reasoning for this latest executive order is that black people are more than four times as likely to die from COVID-19 in comparison to white people. But her solution isn’t to ensure black citizens are properly equipped to handle viruses with adequate health-care access, it’s to instead force state employees to partake in bias training and identify harmful laws.

It’s unclear how these measures will address the immediate problem of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in black communities, or anywhere in the state. Instead, it seems more likely that she’s pandering to the popular narrative of being proactively anti-racist for the news headlines with her 163rd executive order of the year.

While her focus was on racism, Whitmer failed to mention any good news about her state’s economy. That’s because it’s severely struggling under her leadership. Michigan is among the top ten states with the highest rates of unemployment in the nation, with nearly 14 percent collecting unemployment. The state had plans to finally move to the next phase of re-opening, but now it’s not happening because Whitmer’s plan simply isn’t working.

After announcing her executive order on racism, Whitmer announced that her coronavirus news conferences will switch back to online only. But, of course, only after her major announcement made the cut. She had been allowing two to three reporters, expanded more recently to up to 10, to attend her briefings. But she’s rolling it back, alongside the state’s plan to re-open the economy, which will no doubt continue to hurt Michiganders who are struggling to find employment.

$1,000 Fines Atop Forcibly Unemployed People

Beyond focusing on social issues like racism, Whitmer’s new response plan for COVID-19 takes a more heavy-handed approach to force Michigan residents into compliance via state police. Indeed, she plans to ticket and fine her way into a healthy public by ordering state police to “enforce violations of COVID-19 executive orders and epidemic orders in the same manner as it would enforce any other violation of law, using enforcement discretion as appropriate.” This is after some areas like Detroit have cited more than 2,600 people with $1,000 fines.

In addition to fining the noncompliant, Whitmer is coming for the business licenses of those who don’t follow her orders. She has ordered the state department directors and autonomous agency heads to “consider violations of law, including violations of relevant COVID-19 executive orders and epidemic orders” when determining suitability for licensing.

This means if a “non-essential” business continues to operate safely in order to provide for the owners’ and employees’ families, despite the current legal structure prohibiting them from doing so, the state could shut them down forever. I guess it’s better to shut up and collect unemployment than risk losing your livelihood by continuing to operate, no matter how many safety precautions you take.

More Random Laws Will Disproportionately Hit Blacks

Whitmer’s heavy-handed approach to enforcing COVID-19 violations is antithetical to the racism problem she’s claiming to fight. By passing yet another law restricting people’s freedom, and directing cops to enforce that law heavily, she’s opening another avenue for police involvement in individual’s lives. Based on historical trends, this means black Michiganders will suffer the most from this order.

Evidence of racial disparity in policing and sentencing lies in Michigan’s own jails and prisons, where black people make up 49 percent of the incarcerated population but only 14 percent of the state population. This overrepresentation of black people starts with enforcement on the streets of Michigan.

While hopefully no one is going to prison for violating her COVID rules, Whitmer’s orders will certainly lead to more police interactions, with citations and fines to follow. And if it looks anything like the conviction trends the state has seen, this could mean more black people will be fined, depending on enforcement mechanisms.

For example, the executive order only applies to state police, so it depends where they are primarily concentrated. Many local officers have taken a stand against enforcement, stating they aren’t “mask police” and won’t be enforcing Whitmer’s orders.

If Whitmer Wants To Be Useful, She Should Try This

There’s no denying that racism exists in America. But using it is a way to divide people in a pandemic to push a newsworthy agenda isn’t the right way to make any real change. If Whitmer truly believes racism is an issue in Michigan, there are tangible things she could be doing to address the problem beyond yet another online training protocol for state employees. She could start by addressing the disportionate prison population and committing to commuting sentences of at-risk prisoners who are no longer a threat to citizens’ safety.

Michael Thompson is one of those inmates who now has COVID, and if he isn’t released, he could die behind bars because of something that wouldn’t even land him in prison if he were caught committing the same act today. Thompson is a 69-year-old black man convicted of selling three pounds of marijuana to an undercover cop in 1996. More than 24 years later, he’s still there.

Michigan has legalized recreational and medicinal cannabis, so keeping citizens imprisoned for things that are no longer deemed criminal is reprehensible, especially if they’re part of the high-risk population from the virus.

Whitmer is attempting to position herself as the hero of social justice issues, the warrior of solving racism once and for all. But her flashy order doesn’t actually create reform, it just distracts from the fact that Michigan is failing in its response to COVID-19. Instead of attempting to use more online task forces and trainings to solve a cultural problem, Whitmer should focus on tangible steps to re-open the economy, and stop creating laws that have the potential to devastate the lives of more black people.

Molly Davis is a policy analyst at Libertas Institute. She is also a contributing writer for Young Voices Advocates. Find her on Twitter at @_molly_davis_.

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