Thursday December 02, 2021

Protests, court rulings: Anti-lockdown moves take partisan turn in US

May 15, 2020

LANSING, United States: Demonstrators gathered in Michigan’s capital on Thursday to protest coronavirus stay-at-home orders and a court rejected an extension of restrictions in neighbouring Wisconsin as lockdown debates turn bitterly partisan in the United States.

Several hundred protesters, including some with guns, milled around in a steady rain outside the closed Michigan state capitol building in defiance of Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home orders.

"Defend Our Constitution. Patriots Stand Up!" read posters carried by the demonstrators, some of whom also openly displayed their support for Republican President Donald Trump. A large banner with the word "FREEDOM!!!" in bold black letters was strung over the steps to the Michigan capitol building. Michigan, the midwestern state that is home to the US auto industry, is expected to play a key role in the November presidential election and has become a hot spot for right-wing opposition to lockdown orders. With more than 48,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,714 deaths, Michigan has the fourth-most virus fatalities in the United States.

Whitmer, who has emerged as a potential running-mate for presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, imposed tough lockdown orders in a bid to stem the outbreak. Her initial "Stay Home, Stay Safe" directive came on March 24 and she has since extended it until May 28 while relaxing some restrictions on non-essential businesses and recreation.

The 48-year-old former prosecutor nicknamed "Big Gretch" has condemned the presence of armed men at the demonstrations and said the gatherings "make it likelier" she will have to extend the stay-at-home orders.

During an April 30 protest in Lansing, armed demonstrators entered the capitol lobby and were blocked by police officers from entering the legislative chamber.

Whitmer told ABC’s "The View" on Wednesday that "arms were being used to intimidate others ... and that is not legal activity."

"We have legislators who are showing up to work wearing bullet-proof vests," she said. The protests have become "political rallies where people come with Confederate flags and Nazi symbolism and calling for violence," Whitmer said.

"We have to listen to the science," the governor said. "I’m going to make decisions based on facts not based on political rhetoric or tweets for that matter."

Her reference to tweets was to Trump, who has inserted himself into the Michigan debate on several occasions. Trump is eager to reboot the devastated US economy ahead of November but has delivered mixed messages when it comes to reopening the country.

While urging state governors to adhere to federal guidelines on reopening safely, he has also said they should relax restrictions.

Public health experts, including the president’s top medical advisor Anthony Fauci, have warned that loosening restrictions on public gatherings too early could trigger fresh Covid-19 outbreaks.

A day after the first protest in Michigan a month ago Trump tweeted "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" Following the second large protest there two weeks ago he said Whitmer should "make a deal" with the protesters, calling them "very good people."

Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by a slim 10,000 votes in Michigan in 2016, and winning the state is seen as crucial to his re-election hopes.

Trump similarly injected himself on Thursday into the debate in Wisconsin, which also has a Democratic governor and is also seen as key to his bid for four more years in office. Wisconsin’s conservative-dominated Supreme Court overturned Governor Tony Evers’ stay-at-home orders on Wednesday, siding with Republican Party lawmakers who had challenged an extension of the quarantine to May 26.

While Wisconsin is not one of the hardest hit US states, it has still recorded more than 10,900 cases and more than 400 deaths.

"The Great State of Wisconsin... was just given another win," Trump tweeted. "Its Democrat Governor was forced by the courts to let the State Open. The people want to get on with their lives."

While Michigan has become a focal point for anti-lockdown protests, Whitmer appears to enjoy widespread approval of her handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the state. In a Washington Post-Ipsos poll, 72 percent of Michigan residents said they approved of her actions while 25 percent disapproved. Only 43 percent of the Americans surveyed approved Trump’s handling of the pandemic.