It's easy to understand why many Michiganders would be frustrated with the governor. The economic shutdown has put more than 1.3 million workers out of a job, or a quarter of the state's workforce. Some still haven't gotten any unemployment money yet, more than six weeks into the crisis.
But many of the protesters went off-script. Many stood close together and didn't wear face masks, flouting the social distancing guidelines experts recommend to stop the virus from spreading. There were Confederate flags, signs calling Whitmer a bitch, and signs insinuating that the governor should be lynched. Of course, the protesters were largely white — because can anyone imagine Black or brown people walking into a government building with guns without getting shot? (In Michigan, violating the stay-at-home order is punishable by fines of up to $1,000. No word on if police issued any tickets. It is legal to bring guns into the Capitol.)
A sign currently on the lawn: pic.twitter.com/sPqeCfVUQ0— Craig Mauger (@CraigDMauger) April 30, 2020
Front of the Capitol views at the Lansing, MI protest pic.twitter.com/3eDfdUVkLK— Anna Liz Nichols (@annaliznichols) April 30, 2020
Views from the protest in Lansing, MI right now pic.twitter.com/YC0Xyyd1MP— Anna Liz Nichols (@annaliznichols) April 30, 2020
Today at Michigan's State Capitol.— Bryan Newland (@RealBNewland) April 30, 2020
I'm old enough to remember when Black teenagers were beaten or shot for: carrying cigars, toy guns, breathing...
But please, carry on with your armed blockade of the seat of State government. pic.twitter.com/Nvhh8isRjQ
On Friday, President Donald Trump took to Twitter for some mobster LARPing, and said Whitmer should "give a little, and put out the fire."
"These are very good people, but they are angry," Trump said. "They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal."
The Governor of Michigan should give a little, and put out the fire. These are very good people, but they are angry. They want their lives back again, safely! See them, talk to them, make a deal.— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 1, 2020
The comment echoes Trump's previous statement about the white nationalist riot in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, in which he said there were "very fine people on both sides." Before Thursday's protest, Trump called on his followers to "LIBERATE MICHIGAN" in a tweet.
Former Vice President Joe Biden and Michigan Attorney General denounced Trump's "very good people" statement.
I'll say what Donald Trump won't: The Confederate flag, swastikas, and other symbols of hate that have been used in these protests have no place in America. The president should encourage folks to follow Gov. Whitmer’s public health orders — not sow further discord and division. https://t.co/fZrHELiXVh— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) May 1, 2020
It would be great to have a president who believes "very good people" don't brandish confederate flags and swastikas again. https://t.co/0NDelmpXs9— Dana Nessel (@dananessel) May 1, 2020
On Thursday, Whitmer extended Michigan’s state-of-emergency declaration to May 28, without seeking Congressional approval. Republican lawmakers have threatened to file a lawsuit in retaliation.
The coronavirus has hit Michigan particularly hard, infecting more than 41,000 residents and killing more than 3,700, making it one of the top hotspots for the virus in the U.S. The Trump administration had long ignored and downplayed the threat of the crisis.
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