Whitmer Defies Own Social Distancing Rule at Detroit Protest

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D.) / Getty Images
June 5, 2020

Michigan's Democratic governor Gretchen Whitmer defied her own controversial social distancing rules while attending a Detroit civil rights protest Thursday. The one came just days after the governor expressed a "high level of concern" that such mass gatherings could spread coronavirus.

Whitmer, who implemented some of the strictest shutdown policies in the country in response to the pandemic, did not adhere to social distancing rules as she joined hundreds in a march from Highland Park to Detroit's Wayne State University. The Democrat's latest order, "phase four" of the state's coronavirus response, allows for outdoor events "so long as people maintain six feet of distance from one another and the assemblage consists of no more than 100 people."

Whitmer, a potential Democratic vice presidential candidate, previously condemned those protesting her controversial stay-at-home orders, saying "they are not staying six feet apart and then they go back home into communities and the risk of perpetuating the spread of COVID-19 is real." Michigan Freedom Fund executive director Tony Daunt, who cosponsored April's "Operation Gridlock" protest, said it was "particularly rich" that Whitmer was "not engaging in social distancing given the statements she made about earlier protests."

At a Monday press conference, Whitmer expressed a "high level of concern" that large protests could expedite the spread of the virus, which has killed nearly 5,600 in the state. Ingham County health officer Linda Vail echoed her uneasiness, saying she was "concerned" that "the whole social distancing thing wasn't happening" at protests.

"Aside from the first couple of weeks of this crisis, when everybody was giving the governor leeway to make decisions and rapidly address the information coming in, she's shown herself to be basing arbitrary and authoritative decisions on nothing but her own personal feelings," Daunt told the Washington Free Beacon. "There's no data, no science behind her decisions, it's just what she feels at the moment. That's a testament to her mindset—it's her way or the highway."

Whitmer spokesman Bobby Leddy told the Free Beacon that the governor did not violate her own order, saying she "took precautions for engaging in an outdoor activity, including wearing a mask even though it is not required outdoors under the order." He added that the order "includes the right to peaceful protest," though he did not address the protest's lack of social distancing or the fact that it exceeded the order's 100-person threshold for outdoor events. Whitmer removed her mask to speak to the press.

"Social distancing is critical to stop the spread of COVID-19—unless you have a great photo op," Republican state lawmaker Lynn Afendoulis tweeted following the protest.