Bankole: Whitmer breaks promise to Detroiters

Bankole Thompson

Within weeks of incessant protests that were organized in Lansing against her stay-at-home orders, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer started easing restrictions. High-profile press conferences staged with top business leaders in the state and daily announcements of what sectors will open show that the push for the governor to reopen the state during a pandemic has Whitmer’s attention. It seems the protesters who stormed the Capitol are winning.

But Detroiters, who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic because of the lack of access to quality care, and the long history of racial inequities in our health care system, are losing. Some Detroit pastors I’ve spoken with in the last couple of weeks have shared with me just how painful their daily routine has become. They’ve been busy presiding over virtual funerals for church members lost to the virus.

The coronavirus has schooled the nation on the worst consequences of inequality, and Detroit, with its majority of poor, black residents, is taking a beating.

The death rates in Detroit are arguably the product of long-ignored inequalities that lay bare the failed promises of major white liberal politicians who have not taken the issue of poverty and inequality seriously. 

It is not unreasonable to question whether Whitmer is paying serious attention to Detroit’s needs. She has not addressed how lifting restrictions will affect the city.

A map of coronavirus cases in Detroit, broken down by ZIP code.

She has named Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist the head of a task force to study the racial disparities in coronavirus deaths. But do we really need this study? Research has already been completed that shows racial inequities in the black communities across the nation. Whitmer could have looked to the report of the 1968 Kerner Commission to understand why black communities like Detroit are suffering under the weight of the virus. 

The appointment of the task force is more talk and less action — a familiar pattern with Whitmer.  

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist announce their plan to expand the right to overtime for more Michigan workers at a news conference at the Fisher Building in Detroit on Thursday.

For example, she promised to appoint a cabinet-level poverty secretary during her 2018 campaign. Instead of delivering on that promise she gave us a poverty task force — hardly an executive level administrative position empowered with resources to combat the problem. She broke her own promise. 

“I supported the governor, but she has been a disappointment so far,” says the Rev. David Holifield, a member of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, which has been hit hard by the pandemic. 

“It’s not so much that we don’t want her to succeed, but we want her to meet the challenges of Detroiters who are mostly affected by this virus, and not try to pacify those who are against the city’s progress. She needs to do what she said during her campaign, including appointing a poverty secretary. This virus is first and foremost a public health issue, which is directly connected to poverty. We need resources and investment. We don’t need another racial task force. That is just window dressing. It is a reinvention of the wheel, only this time the wheel is in the shape of a square rather than a circle, and the ride is extremely bumpy.”

Twitter: @BankoleDetNews

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