GOP slams Whitmer over comment on armed black protesters

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said this week she would agree with people who say that black men storming the Michigan Capitol, as demonstrators did last month, would likely have been killed.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaks with Terrell J. Starr, a senior reporter for The Root, during an interview on Instagram Tuesday, June 9, 2020.

In response to her comment during an online interview, Republicans accused her of defaming law enforcement.

In an interview posted Tuesday on The Root's Instagram page, Terrell Jermaine Starr asked Whitmer, “How do you respond to people who say that if there were a group of black men who stormed the state Capitol that they would have been dead?”

Whitmer replied, “I understand why people say that, and I don’t disagree.”

In an email Thursday, the Michigan Republican Party slammed Whitmer, who has been mentioned as a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Black and Latino demonstrators, some of them armed, appeared at the Capitol May 28. No violence or deaths were reported.

“Yet again, Gov. Whitmer has demonstrated that she is willing to do anything, and say anything, to capture the national spotlight and appease her progressive base in her quest for the Vice Presidency,” state GOP Chairwoman Laura Cox said in the email.

Laura Cox, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, speaks before the arrival of Vice President Mike Pence during a campaign rally at the Marriott hotel in Troy, February 25, 2020.

Whitmer’s office rejected the Republican criticism.

“It's disappointing but not surprising that President Trump and the Michigan Republican Party continue to fan the flames of racial division,” spokeswoman Tiffany Brown said in an email.

“Gov. Whitmer won't be distracted by these petty partisan attacks that seek to divide Americans.”

At the May 28 rally organized by Legally Armed in Detroit, Stephen Alexander of Lansing carried a pistol outside the Capitol Building and said, "I want to present myself as an adult black man, fully armed and not a danger. If you are not a danger to me, I am not dangerous. It's as simple as that."

The Republicans said the event was also attended by Blacks and Latinos Against Racist Empowerment. 

The armed protesters called for an end to hate between the races, advocated for gun rights and decried the deaths of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. 

“Whitmer’s inflammatory statement about risks to armed African Americans at the state Capitol is not only defamatory to the men and woman of law enforcement who protect her, but it’s also blatantly false,” Cox said.

Brown said Whitmer will continue working to improve the racial climate and police practices.

“She will stay focused on her policy agenda to reform policing and promote racial equity here in Michigan, so we build a state that works for everyone,” Brown said.