Michigan politicians wear bulletproof vests as armed protesters storm Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders

Senator Sylvia Santana, a Democrat, wore the protective gear to work on Thursday to protect herself 

Danielle Zoellner
Thursday 30 April 2020 20:50 BST
Armed protesters storm Michigan Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders

Michigan politicians have decided to don bulletproof vests when going to work as armed protesters defy lockdown orders.

State Senator Dayna Polehanki, a Democrat, revealed the protective decision some of her colleagues were making when sharing a picture of protesters on Twitter on Thursday.

In the picture, multiple men in the Michigan State Capitol building were armed with guns.

She wrote: "Directly above me, men with rifles yelling at us. Some of my colleagues who own bulletproof vests are wearing them. I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today."

When contacted by The Independent, the senator shared a picture of her colleague Senator Sylvia Santana, a Democrat, wearing a bulletproof vest and face mask while working.

A spokesperson with the Michigan police told NBC News protesters are legally allowed to carry guns in Michigan as long as it's done with "lawful intent" and the weapon is visible.

Hundreds of protesters have gathered inside and outside of the Capitol on Thursday to protest stay-at-home measures Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, put in place in March. The governor faced backlash after she extended the stay-at-home order until 15 May.

With over a month of staying at home to-date, protesters are pressing for Michigan politicians to lift the restrictions, and some have carried guns with them while addressing their points.

Video footage captured inside the Capitol showed protesters raising guns into the air as they shouted chants of "let us in" outside the House chamber. Most of them were not wearing face coverings or practising social distancing.

Prior to protesters being allowed into the Capitol building, police were seen taking the temperatures of everyone using a forehead thermometer, according to WOOD-TV.

The protest was named "American Patriot Rally" and was organised by Michigan United for Liberty group. They are asking for legislators to reopen businesses to put people back to work and boost the economy.

Ms Whitmer's state of emergency order was expected to expire at the end of Thursday, and she would need approval from legislators to extend the order. The Republican-controlled legislature has not said if they would approve an extension of the order or not.

A state of emergency is not the same as a stay-at-home order. The governor needed a state of emergency in order to put in place orders for residents to remain in their homes. Ms Whitmer said she expected the state of emergency to remain in place, though, even when the stay-at-home order expired, the Lansing State Journal reported.

The Emergency Powers of Governor Act of 1945 gives Ms Whitmer the power to declare a state of emergency without the needed approve from state legislators.

Senator Dayna Polehanki shared on Thursday some colleagues, like Senator Sylvia Santana (pictured), are wearing bulletproof vests to work as armed protesters storm the Michigan State Capitol

In recent weeks, Ms Whitmer has faced a fierce backlash for some of her orders amid the coronavirus pandemic. But she's defended her decisions in an effort to keep residents safe from the novel virus.

Coronavirus infections and hospitalisations are decreasing across Michigan, but the state has more than 40,000 reported Covid-19 cases and over 3,600 people have died from the virus.

Ms Whitmer did ease some restrictions, including allowing construction to resume on 7 May.

The protest on Thursday was similar to an "Operation Gridlock" demonstration held on 15 April, also against Michigan's stay-at-home order, with a majority of protesters appearing to support President Donald Trump. Some protesters wore Trump memorabilia, including "Make America Great Again" hats. Chants of "lock her up", aimed at Ms Whitmer and mirroring what Trump supporters said about Hillary Clinton, also reverberated through the crowd.

Heightened anger from the protesters could have sparked after a Michigan judge sided with the governor in a lawsuit filed by residents who claimed the stay-at-home order violated their constitutional rights.

"Although the Court is painfully aware of the difficulties of living under the restrictions of these executive orders, those difficulties are temporary, while to those who contract the virus and cannot recover (and to their family members and friends), it is all too permanent," Judge Christopher M Murray wrote on Wednesday.

Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said on Wednesday he was "disappointed" that people continued to gather at the Capitol to protest.

"We all need to be practising social distancing by staying home or only working essential jobs in our own communities to ensure that we beat this virus,” Mr Schor said, while acknowledging the protesters' rights. “The Governor’s Executive Order recognises that people are still allowed to exercise their First Amendment right to freedom of speech."

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