LANSING — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer blasted President Donald Trump on Monday, arguing he is “determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division” amid nationwide protests over racism and police brutality.
Whitmer’s comments followed a conference call with Trump in which he lashed out at governors for failing to control the protests that began peacefully but turned violent this weekend in Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and cities across the country.
The New York Times, which obtained audio of the call, reports Trump called looters “scum” and said Minnesota, where protests have been especially tense following the death of George Floyd at the knee of a Minneapolis police officer, has become “a laughingstock all over the world.”
“You have to dominate,” the Republican president reportedly told governors. “If you don’t dominate, you’re wasting your time — they’re going to run over you, you’re going to look like a bunch of jerks.”
The president added: “You have to arrest people, and you have to try people, and they have to go jail for long periods of time.”
In a statement, Whitmer said Trump also told governors to “put it down” or they would be “overridden,” suggesting he “repeatedly and viciously attacked governors who are doing everything they can to keep the peace while fighting a one-in-a-generation pandemic.”
Michigan’s first-term governor has urged social distancing and encouraged peaceful demonstrations but activated the National Guard this weekend to assist at protests in Grand Rapids and Lansing.
Whitmer said she joined Monday’s call with Trump after reading an essay by former President Barack Obama, who opined that protests over Floyd’s death could “represent a ‘turning point for real change’ as long as activists channel their anger into ‘peaceful, sustained, and effective action.’"
Whitmer urged residents to follow Obama’s advice and “pull together” to “build a nation that works for everyone” but said that instead of “offering support or leadership to bring down the temperature at protests,” Trump went after governors.
“The president’s dangerous comments should be gravely concerning to all Americans, because they send a clear signal that this administration is determined to sow the seeds of hatred and division, which I fear will only lead to more violence and destruction,” she said. “We must reject this way of thinking. This is a moment that calls for empathy, humanity, and unity. This is one of the most challenging periods in our nation’s history, but as Americans, we must remember our enemy is racial injustice, not one another.”
Trump last week asked the U.S. Department of Justice to expedite an investigation into the death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer was knelt on his neck for nine minutes following a report of a counterfeit $20 bill.
The president called the footage “shocking” and said he felt “very, very” badly about Floyd’s death but also appeared to condone a violent police response to protesters by tweeting, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
Trump later denied he was making a threat.
“It means when there's looting, people get shot and they die,” Trump explained. “And if you look at what happened last night and the night before you see that it's very common. And that's the way that was meant.”
Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes, in a Sunday statement, said she hopes the public can recognize the difference between protesting and rioting.
In the process, she angered Republicans by calling Trump supporters racist. More than 2.2 million MIchigan residents voted for Trump in 2016.
“If you support Donald Trump, you are a racist,” Barnes said. “Here is where it gets tricky and uncomfortable. Donald Trump is a racist, and if being a racist is not a dealbreaker for you, you are the reason Black people are being murdered for being Black.”
Michigan Republican Party Chair Laura Cox called Barnes’ statement “unacceptable” and said it “only makes this tragedy worse.”
“Lavora Barnes’ remarks claim that millions of Michiganders are evil,” Cox said in her own statement. “It implies that they cannot be reasoned with, and that our differences cannot be resolved peacefully through discourse and not violence. I refuse to accept this inflammatory statement from my counterpart.”