Hundreds of protesters entered the Michigan State Capitol building Thursday and crowded its halls and staircases demanding that the state legislature not extend Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.
Numerous protesters, some not wearing masks, got into the faces of state police officers stationed inside the building and shouted to be let into the chambers, which are closed to visitors due to health precautions.
State legislators were meeting to discuss extending Michigan’s state of emergency, which was issued on March 10 and was slated to end on Thursday.
“Vote no!” protesters shouted inside the building.
The legislature’s decision won’t affect Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, which was enacted on March 24 and will remain in effect until May 15. However, it could affect her emergency powers going forward.
Michigan Senator Dayna Polehanki tweeted a photo showing several men, at least one of them armed, on the balcony inside the building, and said that several of her colleagues had donned bulletproof vests.
“I have never appreciated our Sergeants-at-Arms more than today,” she tweeted.
It is legal in Michigan to carry a firearm in public “as long as the person is carrying the firearm with lawful intent and the firearm is not concealed,” according to the state police.
Tiffany Brown, a spokeswoman for Whitmer, said the governor respects citizens’ right to protest, but that they shouldn’t be putting themselves or first responders at risk of catching the virus.
“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 said in a statement.
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As of Thursday morning, Michigan had more than 40,000 coronavirus cases and more than 3,600 deaths, according to data from the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.
Whitmer has come under attack from protesters who argue that her COVID-19 precautions are too strict and are costing them their livelihoods.
On Friday, Whitmer amended her shelter-in-place order to allow people to perform certain jobs such as construction, and to go to recreational areas such as golf courses, as long as they practice strict social distancing. A Michigan judge also ruled in favor of the governor in a lawsuit against her office, determining that her shelter-in-place order didn’t infringe on residents’ constitutional rights.
“Governor Whitmer understands that this is a frustrating time and that many people are angry,” Brown said in a statement. “People want to spend time with their families, friends, and loved ones.”
Thursday’s protests began earlier in the morning with the crowds, some of whom were armed with guns and rifles, piling up outside the building with homemade signs. Rally members drove their cars around the perimeter honking their horns.
Michigan State Police representative Lt. Brian Oleksy told ABC News that there were between 400 and 700 people at Thursday’s rally. No summonses were issued however two people were arrested for allegedly getting into a fight between themselves, according to Olesky.