For the last 15 years Pancakes & Politics has brought together the state’s most influential leaders to discuss important events and issues impacting our state. Forum II returns with a very pointed discussion with Governor Gretchen Whitmer as she grapples with re-opening the state of Michigan while managing and mitigating the impact of COVID-19, race relations, police reform and more.
After a brief hiatus due to COVID-19, the Michigan Chronicle held its first virtual Pancakes and Politics Forum which featured remarks by longtime presenting sponsor Ric DeVore, regional president of PNC Bank, and Nancy Moody, vice president of public affairs at DTE Energy.
Dennis Archer Jr., CEO of Ignition Media Group and president of ACS, and Vickie Thomas, morning drive and city beat reporter at WWJ Newsradio 950, moderated the event.
“We thought about postponing P&P until 2021,” said Hiram E. Jackson, CEO of Real Times Media and publisher of the Michigan Chronicle. “However, with the current climate it was important to have a conversation about race and the widening socioeconomic gap in our region at this time.”
Archer kicked things off by asking Gov. Whitmer, “What does the phrase Black Lives Matter mean to you?”
“I think [Black Lives Matter] is a way to clearly and affirmatively say what I think has gone unsaid for hundreds of years,” said Whitmer. “That Black Americans have lived a second class existence since the original sin of slavery. That Black Americans have suffered and endured generations of systemic racism in our country and that Black Americans deserve full and equal protections under the laws of our country.
“When we say Black Lives Matter those words have real power, but as a leader it can’t just be words — it has to be backed up by meaningful action,” she continued. “George Floyd’s murder so graphically captured on camera has inspired and sparked a national movement. And I don’t think we can afford to let this moment pass us by. I’ll never fully comprehend the anxiety that a Black person has every time their children or loved ones leave the house. Yet as an ally I am seeking to understand, help lead and join the movement.”
Gov. Whitmer addressed COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on African Americans, and how she established the Michigan Coronavirus Task Force on Racial Disparities to help create real solutions to help lift vulnerable communities out of poverty.
The task force, led by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, will study racial disparities in the impact of COVID-19 and recommend actions to address the reasons behind such disparities.
“This disease held up a mirror to the United States and reminds us of the deep inequities in our country,” said Whitmer. “We’re gonna work to ensure that if another crisis comes our way everyone, no matter the community, race or socioeconomic status, has the support they need to take care of themselves and their families.
“Recent reports show that the aggressive approach we’ve had to take to protect our families from COVID-19 has significantly lowered the number of cases and deaths within in our state,” the governor said.
“Rate of infection fell despite what’s going on in other states and were it not for the Stay Home Stay Safe order we would’ve seen approximately 28,000 more cases and three times as many deaths,” she continued.
As we recover from COVID-19 Gov. Whitmer assured citizens that she is going to continue to work on long-term solutions for Michigan.
We’re going to come out of this but we have to learn hard lessons that we can improve upon.
When it comes to the 2020-21 school year, Whitmer shared that she will be unveiling the state’s plan to reopen the schools in the coming weeks. She will release a “Michigan’s Return to School Roadmap” on June 30 to outline requirements, guidelines and recommendations for schools.
“Resuming in-person instruction is the goal. It’s important that we strive for that,” said Whitmer. “As for parents and their choice to keep their kids home and learning the big question is what are the resources of a particular district and whether they have access to broadband. We have over 800 school districts in Michigan and each comes with its own set of challenges and assets. We’re going to have to be able to navigate this in a way that makes sense for parents and keeps kids safe. We want to get this right.”
When it came to the topic of police reform, Whitmer stated that while she is against defunding the police, she does support demilitarizing police departments and creating more policies to address police brutality.
“What I do support is real reform to make our police more reflective of the communities they police,” said the governor. “I support reforms to create affirmative duties for officers to intervene when excessive force is being used. I support diversity in the force and implicit bias training and mental health screening.”
“On the other side of the equation I support investment in community, which is a part of the movement that we are seeing in the protests across the country. I support creating opportunities through better education in schools, better transit and workforce opportunities. There is a lot of work to do on both sides of the ledger. And it will take people from both sides—activists and policing agencies to come to the table so that we have something that is real and meaningful.”
To watch Pancakes & Politics Forum II in its entirety, please visit the Michigan Chronicle’s Facebook page.