Michigan legislators passed a bill yesterday afternoon that said they can sue Gov. Gretchen Whitmer if she extends shutdown orders beyond May 15. Last night, the Democratic governor did in fact issue an executive order extending the shutdown to May 28—and promised to veto any attempt to limit her authority to do so.
"The governor will not sign any bills that constrain her ability to protect the people of Michigan from this deadly virus in a timely manner," said Whitmer's office in a Thursday evening statement. "The governor intends to veto this bill when presented to her."
This follows a raucous day at the Michigan state capitol.
Michigan residents rallying there yesterday—the latest in a series of cross-country protests against restrictive lockdown policies—once again saw the most outrageous or worst elements get highlighted as representative of the whole lot.
It's not entirely the media's fault. These folks mean to attract attention. They're eager to talk to reporters. And they're often initially shared in social media photos not by professional reporters but by others attending (or counterprotesting) the rally. Pictures of normie-looking people quietly exercising their rights don't tend to go viral. And while many local news accounts of protests have been thorough, balanced, and nuanced, it's always the wildest quote or character from these accounts that capture public attention even before cable news programs and the culture war's digital aggregators get their hands on them.
Still, the latest spectacle in Michigan has proven a particularly ripe target for sensationalized press. You see, some protesters were armed. Visibly armed. (Concealed carry is banned on the capitol grounds, so visibly armed is the only way there to be legally armed.) No guns were discharged, and there were no reports of people carrying illegal weapons. Yet the firearms seem to have garnered more visceral horror and public condemnation than the legitimate public health problem posed by maskless protesters crowding into buildings and shouting up close in each other's and staff's faces.
The "American Patriot Rally" started outside, reported Craig Mauger of The Detroit News, who was there throughout the day. But protesters were let into the capitol lobby, where they began chanting "let us in" after they were denied entry to the closed legislative chamber.
Armed "gunmen" did not "storm" the capital in a threatening manner, a claim that was making the rounds online for a bit yesterday, nor were police required to protect Whitmer from them. Only one person was arrested yesterday, police told Mauger—and that was for ripping a flag out of someone else's hands.
Whitmer spokesperson Tiffany Brown in a statement said yesterday that "it's disappointing to see people congregating without masks, and without practicing social distancing. This kind of activity will put more people at risk, and it could mean that more people will die."
She's right. Regardless of whether Michigan's shutdown orders go too far, protesters will lose some public sympathy and some moral high ground when they move unnecessarily put others at risk in those ways.
But the state shares a good deal of blame here, even putting aside larger shutdown-oriented battles. They could, after all, have offered to let the protesters enter the building in an orderly and public-health-friendly fashion. They could have let protesters who were taking the proper precautions go further into the building and make themselves heard before their elected officials.
At the very least, they could have issued state police and capital staff better protective gear.
Inside the closed legislature, Michigan state lawmakers were debating whether to extend a state-of-emergency declaration. The state of emergency declaration is separate from Whitmer's shelter-in-place order, which is ostensibly what people were rallying against.
In addition, a resolution was introduced "authorizing the Speaker of the House to commence legal action on behalf of the House of Representatives challenging the Governor's authority and actions during the COVID-19 pandemic." It was adopted by a voice vote, as was a similar resolution in the state Senate.
The resolutions (Senate Resolution 114 and House Resolution 250) would have to be approved by Gov. Whitmer, who said she would veto "any bills that constrain her ability to protect the people of Michigan from this deadly virus."
Michigan Advance notes that "Whitmer's office maintains she holds legal authority to continue her emergency orders without the Legislature's approval under the Constitution and the Emergency Powers of Governor Act."
Outside the legislature yesterday, some of those carrying guns talked to local reporters and sounded far from the crazed maniacs they've been portrayed as:
As to why some protesters were carrying guns Thursday, John Parkinson, 47, of Macomb Township, said his weapon is like a piece of clothing to him, and he carries it for personal protection.
"It is our constitutional right," he said. "It is not that we are trying to say, 'Look at me. Look at me.' This is what we do. This is how we do things. This is our way of life. I openly carry my handgun daily."
Unfortunately, freakouts over people peacefully exercising their rights—and the antics of an irresponsible segment among the protesters—distract from the reasonable and real issues being addressed by many ralliers and stay-at-home supporters of lifting lockdown orders to at least some degree.
It's not a choice between total lockdown and utter inaction, as Reason's Shika Dalmia writes at The Week. "We need more targeted approaches to contain high-risk activities and protect high-risk populations while giving ordinary Americans more—not less—freedom to figure out when and how they want to return to work and some semblance of normal life."
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