Coronavirus lockdowns turn political with protests in US

Critics lash out at Michigan order barring residents from moving between homes and halting sales of garden supplies.

Michigan protests
Steve Polet holds a sign during a protest at the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing, Michigan, on Wednesday. Protesters drove past the Capitol to show their displeasure with the governor's orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the coronavirus outbreak [Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

Hundreds of flag-waving, honking protesters drove past the Michigan state Capitol on Wednesday to show their displeasure with Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s orders to keep people at home and businesses locked during the coronavirus outbreak.

As snow fell, others got out of their vehicles and raised signs, one of which read, “Gov. Whitmer We Are Not Prisoners.” Another said, “Michigander Against Gretchen’s Abuses.”

The “Operation Gridlock” protest was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition.

“This arbitrary blanket spread of shutting down businesses, about putting all of these workers out of business, is just a disaster. It’s an economic disaster for Michigan,” coalition member Meshawn Maddock said. “And people are sick and tired of it.”

Critics of Whitmer, a Democrat said to be a possible running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have taken umbrage at what they call inconsistencies and overreach in her policies, including the more stringent extension last week of a stay-at-home order through the end of April.

That order barred Michigan residents from moving between homes in the state or using motorboats, and stopped stores from selling carpeting, flooring, furniture, garden supplies or paint.

Six Republican members of US Congress from Michigan – Fred Upton, Paul Mitchell, Tim Walberg, Bill Huizenga, John Moolenaar and Jack Bergman – sent Whitmer a letter on Tuesday calling on her to amend the order instead of “needlessly shutting down large sectors of the economy and further restricting the lives of residents”.

Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that Whitmer was turning Michigan into a “police state”.

“Gretchen, stop auditioning for VP & do your job,” she said.

Whitmer, 48, said at a news conference earlier this week that she was doing everything in her power to protect people in the state.

“I don’t do any of this lightly … and I know there’s a cost,” Whitmer said. But she said the re-engagement of the state’s economy would likely occur in phases and be driven by the data on the pandemic.

Whitmer, who also is a co-chair of Biden’s presidential campaign, had previously garnered national attention by trading jabs with President Donald Trump over the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

An opinion poll released on Monday showed 71 percent of respondents in Michigan approved of Whitmer’s coronavirus response. By contrast, the poll, which was conducted by Hart Research Associates days before the extension of the governor’s order, showed 51 percent of respondents approved of Trump’s handling of the crisis.

Wednesday’s protest made big ripples in the Michigan state capital of Lansing. Traffic was barely moving for miles in some areas, but state police said they would stay on the sideline unless people could get hurt.

Republican House Speaker Lee Chatfield, who has urged Whitmer to amend her order, waved an American flag from a window at his Capitol office.

Four sheriffs in the northwestern Lower Peninsula called Whitmer’s orders a “vague framework of emergency laws” that are frustrating citizens. Leelanau County Sheriff Mike Borkovich said people do not understand why they cannot take a child fishing in a motorboat, but they can use a kayak.

“We’re trying to keep the peace with people … The economy is coming apart in northern Michigan. People are upset,” Borkovich told The Associated Press news agency. “People are frantic to get back to work. They have been very edgy.”

Michigan has faced one of the country’s fastest-growing infection rates for the new coronavirus and has seen more than 1,921 residents die, the state health department said Wednesday. The state’s total number of confirmed cases has risen 4 percent in the past 24 hours to 28,059.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies