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Michigan party leaders clash after Dem leader calls Trump voters 'racist'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan’s Republican and Democratic leaders are exchanging barbs after Michigan Democratic Party Chairwoman Lavora Barnes said supporters of President Donald Trump are "racist." 

In a Sunday statement, Barnes said it was time to have “uncomfortable conversations" and end the silence surrounding black oppression, including efforts to suppress the black vote.

“If you support Donald Trump, you are a racist,” Barnes wrote. “Here is where it gets tricky and uncomfortable. Donald Trump is a racist, and if being a racist is not a deal-breaker for you, you are the reason black people are being murdered for being black.”

Michigan Democratic Party COO Lavora Barnes

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Laura Cox responded Monday by arguing that the remarks were akin to saying “millions of Michiganders are evil.”

Barnes' statement came amid a weekend of protests over police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minnesota police. Protests in Detroit, Grand Rapids and Lansing started as largely peaceful demonstrations before erupting into riots. 

Barnes wrote Sunday that individuals should demand change from leaders, but noted there was a difference between protesting and rioting. Criminal justice reform is needed, cops need to be held accountable by independent bodies and the “economic oppression” of blacks should stop, she wrote 

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.

"Here is what they hope for, that we get tired and go away," she said. "Go off message so to speak. We must sustain the message and do this hard work, for our kids that are following us, and to honor the work of the generations that fought before us.

"Go along to get along is over."

Cox condemned Floyd’s killing and said in a Monday statement that African Americans “far too often” are subject to unfair scrutiny by law enforcement. But she called Barnes’ statements about Trump voters “inflammatory” and an implication that “our differences cannot be resolved peacefully through discourse and not violence.”

“As leaders in our state at this trying time, I believe it is imperative that we forge a path forward to better circumstances for every American,” Cox said. “Fanning the flames that are burning our cities down does not accomplish that.”

Cox maintained Trump “has worked tirelessly on behalf of the African-American community” and ordered the Federal Bureau of Investigation to investigate Floyd’s death. 

“It's easier for them (Democrats) to deflect blame and lie about the character of 63 million Americans than it is for them to give up their historic hold on the African-American vote and work toward finding common ground and building a bridge to a better future for every American,” Cox said.

Barnes fired back Monday calling Cox’s statement an attempt “to shame me for speaking truth to power.” She said the Republican leader’s response was an attempt to “deflect, blame and lie.”

“The complete hypocrisy of Republicans saying they won't accept inflammatory statements, while the leader of their party tweeted ‘...when the looting starts, the shooting starts" is outrageous,’” Barnes said.

Barnes said she wouldn’t be bullied by Cox, whose job in the current climate “is to listen, not speak.”

“Ms. Cox doesn’t get to tell me how I should feel as I watch in horror my brothers and sisters be murdered in cold-blood because of the color of their skin,” Barnes said in a Monday statement. “Ms. Cox doesn’t get to tell me what I can say, as unchecked power strips people of their dignity and access to basic human rights.”

eleblanc@detroitnews.com