DETROIT / LANSING – Hundreds gathered to protest the residence permit of Michigan’s governor, Gretchen Whitmer, in Lansing on Thursday, the third-smallest demonstration in the Capitol since businesses were shut down in March due to the corona virus.
Whitmer recently extended Michigan’s home order – one of the strictest in the United States – to at least May 28 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19.
The protest was organized by Michigan United for Liberty, which says it is a nearly 8,000-member nonprofit that considers the order unconstitutional.
About 150 protesters gathered around 9:00 am in light rain near the steps of the Capitol building, but the crowd grew to hundreds by mid-morning, some with signs in support of President Donald Trump. A handful had firearms, including long weapons.
Open your business now. Open the restaurants. Open the bars. Open the cinemas, “a demonstrator, who didn’t reveal his name, told the crowd. “Michigan, wake up America.”
Michigan state police responded quickly to a minor scuffle, but said there were no injuries and the location was safe. Speakers had packed the audio system before 11am when the rain intensified.
The Capitol was closed because the legislature was suspended.
The debate about how and when to ease restrictions on trade and social life has become increasingly politicized in the United States, with Trump and his supporters pushing for social distance measures faster than medical experts consider sensible.
Democratic governors of states hardest hit by the outbreak have taken a more cautious stance, adhering to public health officials – and White House guidelines themselves – warning that hugely extensive coronavirus tests and other safeguards should be introduced first.
Hundreds of protesters, some armed, gathered at the same location in Lansing on April 30 to protest Whitmer’s request to the state legislature to extend emergency powers to combat COVID-19.
At that meeting, large groups of protesters entered the Capitol and asked to be rented out on the floor of the house, which is prohibited. Some protesters with weapons – allowed into the state house – went to the Senate Gallery.
Republican-led state law has refused to ban weapons in the Capitol, something Democratic governor Whitmer complained about in an interview on CNN on Wednesday.
“No one has to go to work and feel intimidated,” she said. “Making the Capitol a weapon-free zone is important to make people feel they can do their jobs safely.”
Authorities had told protesters that they would expect a heavy police presence during Thursday’s protest, and Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned ahead of time that she was prepared to prosecute possible violations, including brandishing weapons and entering the legislative chambers.
“I strongly support the First Amendment’s right to protest government actions in the Capitol or elsewhere in the state; however, such activity must be done in a safe and legal manner, “she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday.
Michigan had the fourth-highest death toll from COVID-19 in the United States as of Thursday, with 4,714 deaths among 48,391 confirmed cases.