Michigan Democrat details great-grandfather's lynching during 'critical race theory' debate

Republicans in the state House passed a bill Tuesday that would prohibit schools from teaching any curriculum that includes the “promotion of any form of race or gender stereotyping or anything that could be understood as implicit race or gender stereotyping."

Democrats oppose the bill, saying that it “whitewashes" American history. But Democrats refused to vote on the bill, which passed with a 55-0 vote, because Republican leadership cut off floor speeches before Rep. Cynthia Johnson (D-Detroit), a Black woman, was able to speak about the bill.

House Bill 5097, introduced by Rep. Andrew Beeler (R-Port Huron), does not explicitly reference critical race theory (CRT), a college-level theory that examines the systemic effects of white supremacy in America. Despite national controversy stirred by right-wing media, CRT is not taught in Michigan K-12 schools.

“If anything, today's actions showed why our students need to have more difficult conversations about the impacts of bias in our society," Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) said in a statement. “By restricting the voice of Michiganders who wished to speak on this bill, it shows the true nature of what the bill intends to do."

State Rep. Kyra Bolden (D-Southfield), who is Black, shared on the House floor that her great-grandfather was lynched in the 1930s, and the truth behind his murder was covered up as a drowning.

“It happened to my family. Slavery happened; lynching happened; red-lining happened; government-sanctioned violence based on race happened," Bolden said. “I, too, would like to stick my head in the sand and pretend it didn't, but I can't because it happened to my family and many other families in this nation."

Beeler said his bill is intended to teach children how to “embrace the ideas that have carried our country away from racial and gender-based stereotypes."

A similar bill was introduced in the Senate, Senate Bill 460, which explicitly bans “critical race theory" from being taught in schools and threatens to cut 5% of the school's funding if the state determines that it is violating the law.

HB 5097 now heads to the Senate and if it is passed, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is expected to veto it.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Gov. Whitmer vetoes another round of Michigan GOP voter suppression bills

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer vetoed Friday three more bills from the Republicans' 39-bill election package that would have imposed stricter ID requirements for voters.

Senate Bills 303 and 304, as well as House Bill 5007, would eliminate the state's current option for voters to submit an affidavit attesting to their identity when attempting to vote without a state issued ID.

Whitmer said the bills would “disproportionately harm communities of color," as non-white voters are five times more likely to lack access to an ID on Election Day.

“Voting restrictions that produce such a racially disparate impact must never become law in this state," Whitmer said.

Advocates for “common sense election reform" applauded Whitmer for her decision to veto.

Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians, said the bills “would have disenfranchised voters across the state by putting up new barriers to voting and restricting funding for local elections."

Sharon Dolente, senior advisor for Promote the Vote, also supported Whitmer's vetoes.

“These bills are out of step with what we know Michigan voters want, a voting system that works for everyone. Michigan law already requires voters to verify their identity prior to voting. These bills would impose a radically restrictive identity verification scheme rejected by 42 states. These bills would make it harder for election officials to ensure Michigan elections remain both accessible and secure," Dolente said.

State Sen. Ruth Johnson (R-Groveland Twp.), a former Michigan secretary of state, said that “by vetoing these measures, the governor is rejecting nearly 80% of Michigan voters who support requiring every voter coming to the polls to present a government-issued ID to cast their ballot — including over 58% of voters in her own party."

Johnson also stated that Proposal 3, which allows for no-reason absentee voting, same-day voter registration, straight-ticket voting and more, “weakened the integrity of our election system by allowing people to register and vote without ever being seen in-person."

Secure MI Vote, a Republican-led petition drive, is working to implement many of the same restrictions to voting access. If the campaign is able to gather enough signatures, the initiative will go to the GOP-led Legislature for approval before voters and Whitmer can't veto it.

“Now, we anticipate that the politicians and political operatives behind Secure MI Vote will attempt to use this veto to fuel their anti-voter plan," Wang said.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Dems, Republicans slam Michigan redistricting panel over closed session on Voting Rights Act

The Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission is facing some backlash after hosting a closed meeting Wednesday to discuss the Voting Rights Act (VRA).

The MICRC postponed Wednesday's meeting in East Lansing for over two hours after receiving a death threat through email. MICRC spokesperson Edward Woods said the threat was not directed at any specific member of the commission, but toward the commission as a whole.

The Michigan State Police is investigating the threat.

Redistricting commission postpones meeting due to death threat

The MICRC went into a closed meeting to discuss the VRA with the commission's general counsel, Julianne Pastula, and voting rights lawyer Bruce Adelson and Michigan's history of discrimination and voting.

Woods said the group is allowed to go into closed sessions to speak with an attorney for legal advice and is protected by the Open Meetings Act (OMA). The MICRC is not currently facing any litigation.

Attorney Steve Liedel, who served as legal counsel to Democratic former Gov. Jennifer Granholm, disagrees with Woods. Liedel said the MICRC likely violated both the constitution and the OMA.

“The commission ignored the clear language in the Constitution that says that all of their business must be conducted in public and in an open meeting and that any meeting has to be broadcast in real time. And that portion of the meeting, so there is an issue under the Constitution," Liedel said. “And then there is an issue under the Open Meeting Act. The Open Meetings Act permits consultation with an attorney, but it has to relate to specific litigation and specific litigation would have to have a negative financial impact on the public."

The MICRC was designed to be a transparent and fair way to create new districts in the state after years of gerrymandered districts created by the Legislature. The 13-member panel, composed of four Republicans, four Democrats and five independents, was formed after a 2018 state constitutional measure passed.

Gustavo Portela, Michigan Republican Party spokesperson, said the MICRC entered a “new low" on Wednesday.

“Michiganders were sold on a commission that would be transparent and accountable in the creation of fair state and federal districts under the constitution," said Portela. “It's another gut punch for Michigan voters who were lied to about how this commission would conduct its business and create fair maps for which Michiganders could choose their representation in Lansing and in Washington, D.C."

Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes said the closed meeting shut out the public, noting Black and Brown voters have called for maps that represent their communities more fairly.

“Last week, hundreds of people stood up in Detroit during the MICRC's first public hearing demanding changes to the maps to ensure fair representation for Black and Brown voters," she said in a statement. We have yet to hear the Commission's debrief on the public hearings. Instead of having an open and transparent discussion, the Commission retreated behind closed doors to discuss VRA. This process cannot move forward until the Commission addresses what they've heard from the public, what was discussed in closed session, and how they plan to fix the maps accordingly."

Voters Not Politicians, the organization that led the 2018 ballot proposal to create the MICRC, joined the criticism over the commission's decision to go into a closed session.

“The intent was to bring redistricting out into the open through a fair, impartial, and transparent process. Redistricting business includes deliberating issues arising under the Voting Rights Act," said Nancy Wang, executive director of Voters Not Politicians.

After a public hearing in Detroit on Oct. 20, Department of Civil Rights Executive Director John E. Johnson Jr. said the MICRC's approved proposed maps violate the VRA, which requires districts to fairly represent minority communities.

During a press conference Wednesday night, Pastula said the minutes from the closed session were protected under attorney-client privilege and would likely not be released to the public.

Liedel isn't convinced that the commission's discussion about Michigan's history of discrimination would be protected under attorney-client privilege.

“Was that memo prepared by an attorney? And if not, how can you claim an exemption due to attorney-client privilege for your discussion in closed session? I'm having a hard time following that, because they clearly stated that they were two memos. One was from the voting rights attorney and the other from their consultant on historical patterns of race-based discrimination in Michigan," Liedel said.

Woods denies that the MICRC violated the Constitution or OMA and doesn't believe the closed session undermines the commission's transparent process.

“There's no ding on the reputation of the commission in terms of its ability to be open and transparent. And to suggest that is just not fair," Woods said.

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

Doctors warn horse-dewormer can be lethal, so why are people taking it for COVID-19?

Medication that is usually used to treat parasites has become the latest COVID-19 conspiracy treatment, but doctors are trying to fight misinformation, stressing it isn't proven to help treat the virus. In fact, physicians warn the drug can have detrimental side effects in humans if taken incorrectly.

Medical professionals have studied whether or not ivermectin, which is usually used to treat head lice or parasitic worms in humans, horses and other livestock, could treat or prevent COVID-19, but current research isn't showing that it works.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has pleaded that people do not take ivermectin for COVID-19 purposes.

Using any treatment for COVID-19 that's not approved or authorized by the FDA, unless part of a clinical trial, can cause serious harm," the FDA said in March. “The FDA has received multiple reports of patients who have required medical support and been hospitalized after self-medicating with ivermectin intended for horses."

But as Michigan experiences another surge of COVID-19 cases, there has been an uptick in poison control calls regarding ivermectin and patients looking to be prescribed the drug. As of Wednesday, Michigan has reported a total of 951,192 COVID-19 cases and 20,347 deaths.

Dr. Rob Davidson, a West Michigan emergency room physician and Committee to Protect Health Care executive director, said on MSNBC Wednesday that he had a patient who refused the COVID vaccine, but asked for ivermectin instead.

“These are the kinds of lines that the former president [Donald Trump] threw out there and people latched onto it and just haven't let go," Davidson said.

However, in Ohio, a judge last week ordered the West Chester Hospital, near Cincinnati, to provide a man with 30 mg of ivermectin daily for three weeks after his wife filed a lawsuit against the hospital.

People who haven't been able to find a doctor who will prescribe them ivermectin for COVID-19 have been buying the anti-parasitic medication intended for horses from farm supply stores.

The FDA strongly urges against this, noting “ivermectin preparations for animals are very different from those approved for humans."

These stores are trying to curb customers from buying ivermectin to self medicate by posting warnings that the drug is not safe for human use.

Potential side effects

Taking ivermectin for any reason other than its FDA-approved intended uses can cause mild to severe side effects, especially for those who are taking ivermectin intended for animals.

Dr. Farhan Bhatti, a family physician in Lansing and Michigan state lead for the Committee to Protect Health Care, said mild side effects include headache, dizziness, vomiting and fatigue. More severe side effects include liver disease, blurred vision, changes in heart rate, swelling or low blood pressure.

Matthew Sims, director of infectious disease research at Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, said the side effects from ivermectin could actually worsen COVID-19 symptoms, especially the long lasting COVID-19 symptoms, like heart damage.

“People can die from taking ivermectin if they overdose on it," Bhatti said.

Overdosing is more common for people who are taking ivermectin intended for livestock because the formulations, additives and the dose are likely not the same as what is prescribed to humans, said Sims.

Uptick in ivermectin-related poison control calls

According to Varun Vohra, director of the Michigan Poison and Drug Information Center, there has been a small increase in ivermectin-related calls to the poison control hotline, though it's significantly less than other states.

States with higher volumes of ivermectin-related poison control calls are Alabama, Mississippi and Texas.

In 2021, poison control centers across the U.S. received three times the amount of calls for human exposures to ivermectin in January compared to the pre-pandemic baseline, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That number spiked again in July when ivermectin calls increased to five times the amount compared to the baseline.

Vohra said in May Michigan saw a spike of about 10 calls, compared to about three calls a month prior to the pandemic.

“It's waned since then, but we're going to continue to monitor because this is hitting the news cycle pretty hard, so that could stimulate an increase in use among people who start hearing about it," Vohra said.

Sims said he has seen an increase of patients who have asked to be prescribed ivermectin, but he is following FDA and CDC guidance.

“I've heard people shouting we're trying to keep it away … because it's an old drug and relatively cheap," Sims said. “If it can be proven to work, we'll use it, but I'm not going to assume it's going to work."

Doctors who are recommending unproven treatments to patients could be at risk of losing their license for “unprofessional conduct."

“If physicians are recommending harmful treatments to people, that's a violation of their Hippocratic Oath. And if patients are directly being harmed by something that doctors are telling them to do, then doctors could have their license threatened in court," Bhatti said.

Most doctors are sticking to what's been scientifically proven to work: vaccinations, masking and social distancing, Sims said.

Where did the ivermectin rumor begin?

A myriad of coronavirus-related conspiracy theories have made their way around the internet, many of which have been disproven by physicians, and are often hard to track where they originated.

While ivermectin has been a hot topic in the news recently, it has actually been floated as a COVID-19 treatment since the early days of the pandemic in the U.S.

In April 2020, shortly after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced Michigan's first COVID-19 case in early March, the state put out a press release warning people not to take ivermectin for COVID-19. The release pointed to a pre-publication paper for the journal Antiviral Research as the source of the attention for this drug.

However, that study was only done in a petri dish and was not tested on animals or humans.

Despite that, many right-wing media figures, such as Joe Rogan, Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson, promoted the drug without any scientific backing, reaching a large audience of people who are anti-mask and anti-vaccine. There also are a number of Facebook groups pushing ivermectin, as well as many posts in other social media.

Ivermectin is not the first “miracle drug" that has made headlines during the pandemic. Hydroxychloroquine, convalescent plasma and antiviral drugs lopinavir-ritonavir were also pushed to help treat COVID-19, but studies showed they were ineffective.

“Nobody has a problem with repurposing a drug to use to treat COVID," Sims said. “There's so many different products that have been tried that way, but most of them have not helped."

Michigan Advance is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Michigan Advance maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Susan Demas for questions: info@michiganadvance.com. Follow Michigan Advance on Facebook and Twitter.

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