Taking Action to End Police Brutality | Opinion

The murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor are the latest illustration of hundreds of years of inequity and systemic racism against Black Americans. This is the culmination of governance that did not adequately center the values of equity, representation and opportunity for all. Going forward, we must prioritize these principles to build a more just and equitable country.

We are simultaneously facing two of the most consequential crises of our lifetimes: COVID-19 and the persistence of police brutality. The pain of the convergence of these crises is being felt by those who can bear it the least. Black communities across the country have historically been underfunded and lack basic access to quality education, health care, housing, transportation and paths to opportunity. As a result, tens of thousands of Black Americans have died from COVID-19.

Rightfully, people across the country are demanding change—both in our criminal justice system and in how we ensure access to education, health care, housing and more. To the millions of people across the globe who have lent their voices to peaceful protests in their community, we stand with you and we are committed to using our positions in leadership to enact real, meaningful change.

Since the beginning of our administration, we have been working hard to address the inequities Black communities in our state face every day. This is not a crisis we can solve overnight—but there are tangible steps we are taking to help ensure everyone, no matter who they are, is treated fairly under the law.

We have been committed to enacting criminal justice reforms since the day we took office. Our motivation has been to reduce people's contact with the justice system, while making sure we treat people with dignity and humanity and that we are preparing a path to success for everyone involved. For example, last year, we raised the age of who is considered a juvenile or an adult under the criminal justice system from 17 to 18 years old, joining 46 other states in ending the unjust practice of charging and punishing our children as adults when they make mistakes.

And in April of 2019, we created the bipartisan Michigan Task Force on Jail and Pretrial Incarceration, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist and Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Bridget McCormack, which reviewed the state's jail and court data to expand alternatives to jail, safely reduce jail admissions and length of stay and improve the effectiveness of the front end of Michigan's justice system. The task force has produced a report and made recommendations. Now, it's time for the Republican-controlled legislature to take action on these measures.

Michigan has also taken a number of steps to reform our law enforcement agencies. The Michigan Senate recently passed a bill to require incoming law enforcement officers to go through training on implicit bias, de-escalation techniques and mental health screenings. Now, the Michigan House needs to pass this bill so that we can sign it into law and ensure our law enforcement agencies incorporate these reforms.

We have made changes to the commission that sets the standards for our law enforcement agencies in order to ensure more community leaders and the director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights have a seat at the table when making decisions.

Going forward, we need to enhance our training and policies to create a police culture where all Michiganders are treated with dignity and respect under the law. So what does that look like?

Protesters in Detroit, Michigan
Protesters in Detroit, Michigan SETH HERALD/AFP via Getty Images

We have urged the commission to provide guidance to law enforcement agencies on continuing education that will help officers keep up with the ever-changing landscape of new laws and issues facing the community. We have also urged our law enforcement agencies to enact duty-to-intervene policies, and have taken swift action to ensure transparency in reporting. These steps are a start, but there is more work to do to ensure the safety of Black Michiganders everywhere.

Real and robust change will come when we work together to fund public schools in communities of color and ensure affordable health care, housing and transportation for everyone in our state. We made great strides last year. For the first time ever, we are moving towards a school funding formula that is based on equity and science. And we negotiated a landmark literacy case, where a Michigan court ruled that every child, no matter his or her community, has a birthright to a path to literacy. These are victories for public school students and educators that have been starved of the resources they need to thrive in Michigan. And they are models of the work we must continue in order to build a more equitable and just state.

Communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has held a mirror up to our society and reminded us of the very real health disparities Black American face every day. Early on, we created the Michigan COVID-19 Task Force on Racial Disparities, chaired by Lieutenant Governor Gilchrist, to investigate and recommend actions to address these outcomes. It is our hope that if future pandemics hit Michigan, we will be better prepared to protect communities of color.

Again, we stand with those of you who have demonstrated peacefully—which is why we marched together in Detroit with community and faith leaders earlier this month. This is a generational opportunity to create systems that support the dreams and potential of Black people and others whose access to opportunity has been blocked by implicit and explicit prejudice. So stay encouraged and engaged. Justice will not come overnight, but when we continue to use our collective voices, whether it is in the street during a peaceful protest or at the ballot box, we can be the generation that puts an end to the plagues of COVID-19, systemic racism and police brutality in America.

Gretchen Whitmer is governor of Michigan. Garlin Gilchrist II is lieutenant governor of Michigan.

The views expressed in this article are the writers' own.