LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Protesters gathered in the rain at the Michigan Capitol Building Thursday, demonstrating in opposition to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s executive orders that shut down businesses and told people to stay home to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are out here to protest our rights. We need people to go back to work, we need our economy,” a protester told News 8. “We hear of a lot of families who aren’t getting their unemployment, who are out of work and just struggling mentally and emotionally with all of this.”
Many protesters want Whitmer to ease restrictions on what businesses can operate so more people can go back to work. Others say she has overstepped the bounds of her authority and infringed upon their liberties.
Whitmer has said she’s not going to bow to protesters, noting most people are obeying her orders and that they have worked to slow the spread of the virus. She says her decisions will be based on data and advice from medical and scientific experts.
“We are not saying this virus isn’t real, but people aren’t getting sick like they are,” said Sarah Williams, a protester in attendance.
Williams is pregnant and brought her family, including her kids. None of them were wearing masks. She says they aren’t concerned.
“We take care of ourselves. We work with our immune system to build it up,” she said.
“I think we should open and we should use the guideline we’ve been given by the medical professionals,” said another protester who identified himself as Joe.
This is the third such protest in Lansing. The first in mid-April mostly involved people staying in their cars and clogging traffic around the Capitol. At the second on April 30, protesters were on foot on the lawn and then inside the building. Some were armed, sparking debate about whether guns should be banned on Capitol grounds.
During Thursday’s protest, which saw a smaller crowd, a number of protesters showed up armed with assault rifles. Michigan State Police said if troopers saw anyone brandishing a weapon, that person could be arrested.
“While Michigan is an open carry state, if you decide to exercise that right, make sure that you are not brandishing that weapon in any manner, shape or form — and that is holding it in manner or waving it or pointing it at someone that inflicts fear on a reasonable person,” MSP Lt. DuWayne Robinson warned protesters in a series of videos posted on Twitter Wednesday.
“I need to do it to protect myself and my family and those I care about,” said one man carrying a gun.
When asked if he felt the need to protect himself at the protest, he replied, “You always need to protect yourself. You never know what’s going to happen.”
There were a couple of incidents that required police response, including one involving an ax. Troopers also said there was a fight between two people after one demonstrator tried to take a sign out of another demonstrator’s hand.
But the protest remained mostly peaceful without any arrests.
Even counter protesters said they had no issues.
A couple of women who identified themselves as nurses wrote on their arms “I stand with Whitmer.”
News 8 crews at the Capitol reported that many protesters were seen without masks and ignoring social distancing guidelines, which is consistent with the last two protests.
The legislature was not in session Thursday and the Capitol is closed to the public because of the COVID-19 outbreak, except when lawmakers are meeting.
Armed individuals in the hallway outside the House and in the gallery of the Senate during the second protest prompted some lawmakers to ask the Michigan Capitol Commission to ban guns in the capitol. The commission decided to establish a committee to look into the matter further.
That was not to the liking of Democratic House Leader Christine Greig of Farmington Hills.
She says the commission should have made a decision, but her caucus has written bills to deal with guns in the state house.
“My members have put forth legislation for a long-term solution. Even if the Capitol Commission did act on this, you know those members turn over frequently or can change over. We do need a permanent solution through statute. So my members have already put forth the legislation needed to do that, but we still need the Capitol Commission to act now to make sure we are safe, the school children are safe, that the doors are open to the public free of intimidation and fear,” Greig said.
That legislation would ban guns at the capitol and all state buildings, according to Greig.
The latest data from the state shows coronavirus has sickened nearly 49,582 in Michigan and killed more than 4,787.
MSP told News 8 that authorities asked two people to remove signs that were set up before 6 a.m. Thursday at the steps of the Capitol Building.
**CORRECTION: It was previously reported that two people were removed from the Capitol after leaving items at the steps of the building. That was incorrect. The story has since been corrected.