Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed allocating $75 million of federal COVID-19 funds to provide Michigan law enforcement with better training, find and remove illegal guns from Michigan communities and fund community programs that provide more opportunities in education, jobs and the justice system.
This proposal, which was announced in Detroit last month, comes in the wake of an increase in violent crime in Michigan over the past year, with the crime rate in Detroit increasing by 9.41% and the homicide rate in Detroit increasing by 19%.
In her announcement of the proposal, Whitmer cited the importance of ensuring safety for citizens of Michigan as her motivation for the funding decision.
“People are scared,” Whitmer said. “They’re afraid to pump their gas or merge onto the highway, pull up to a red light, drive to work, drop their kids off at school. That’s not right, and we cannot and will not accept this. No one should feel unsafe as they go about their lives.”
LSA senior Noah Streng, president of Young Democratic Socialists of America at the University of Michigan, is discontent with Whitmer’s announcement. Streng said he believes that increasing funding of law enforcement will not decrease violence or crime and that this funding expansion does not address socioeconomic disparities facing Michigan communities as a result of the pandemic.
“I think that Governor Whitmer is wrong when she says that police keep us safe,” Streng said. “It’s true that we have seen an uptick in violent crime over the past year, but crime doesn’t just happen for no reason. There are real material reasons why people are turning to crime.”
David Helps, co-chair of the Graduate Employees Organization’s Abolition caucus, said he thinks lawmakers must look at more than crime rates when making policy proposals and decisions. He highlighted Detroit’s 45% unemployment rate during the pandemic and the impact that has had on communities and crime rates across the city.
“People have been traumatized, people have been sick, have lost work, have known people that have died, and all of those forms of suffering have been concentrated in certain cities and in certain communities,” Helps said. “Those are some of the same places in which we’re seeing an increase in certain forms of violence.”
Proponents of this proposal have argued that sufficient police training is key to decreasing violence among communities because it will help law enforcement better equipped to handle high-stress situations.
LSA sophomore Alex Manthous supports Whitmer’s proposal and said he thinks this increase in funding will help promote safety across the state.
“I stand with her decision not to defund the police,” Manthous said. “I am a proponent of getting illegal weapons off the street, especially since crime is closely associated with guns and illegal weapons.”
Streng said he believes the police should be defunded with a focus on allocating more money to community programs in communities that have been divested from. This money would be used to bolster education, housing and mental and physical health, Streng said, which may subsequently decrease violence.
“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem,” Streng said. “If we took federal funding and coupled it with shifting resources away from police departments and towards robust social services, jobs, education and health care, we would see a much different outcome, where people would have the opportunities and abilities to get themselves out of poverty and not have to turn to crime.”
The governor’s proposal is awaiting support from the Republican-held legislature, which has touted bipartisan support for increased law enforcement and funding of the police.
Helps expressed his frustration at the lack of action to address the root causes of violence from both sides of the aisle.
“The solutions that we’ve seen proposed are just to throw more money at the problem, to put more cops on the streets, to increase the number of interactions between police and civilians, and we know from last year’s uprisings exactly how that story ends,” Helps said. “So, it’s not all that surprising, but it’s disappointing to see Governor Whitmer retreading that path that we’ve been down time and time again.”
Earlier this year, Republicans and Democrats in the Michigan Senate introduced a 13-piece legislative package in response to the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor to combat police brutality. The package banned no-knock warrants and chokeholds and revoked the licenses of police officers that use excessive force.
But Manthous said he believes defunding the police may lead to an increase in crime and would contribute to an increase in illegal weapons throughout the state.
“I think the police have the citizens’ best interests in mind, obviously,” Manthous said. “They’re on the line of duty to protect us.”
Daily Staff Reporter Kate Weiland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.