Political News

Michigan closes state Capitol as protesters gather against stay-at-home order

Posted May 14, 2020 5:39 p.m. EDT

— The Michigan state Capiltol was closed Thursday as demonstrators gathered at the steps of the building to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order.

The latest protest and the Capitol's closure came two weeks after protesters, some armed, entered the building and demanded to be allowed into the legislative chambers, which have been closed due to social distancing measures. Photos from the day showed some protesters, many of whom were not wearing masks or standing more than 6 feet from one another, screaming at law enforcement officers who were keeping them out of the chambers.

The Senate and House were both out of session Thursday -- adjourned until next Tuesday -- leading Michigan State Police to close the Capitol to the public per protocol. The coronavirus pandemic has already led lawmakers to work remotely and pare down in-person sessions.

The Michigan House previously laid out a plan to meet once a week and then other days as needed, given that it's more difficult for its 110 members to socially distance than Michigan's 38 senators, Gideon D'Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Lee Chatfield, told CNN.

"Since the House finished all of the votes planned for the week yesterday, it adjourned until next week," D'Assandro said Thursday.

Michigan Senate leadership did not reply to CNN's request for comments as to why the Senate has adjourned until next week. Its online calendar shows that the chamber has been in session Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays for the last two weeks and is scheduled to be in session next week on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Police spokeswoman Shanon Banner confirmed to CNN that because neither chamber was in session or holding committee meetings, the Capitol was closed "per the procedures of the Michigan Capitol Commission."

The protest, organized by Michigan United for Liberty, drew a crowd of roughly 200 "at the high point" of Thursday's event, according to Michigan State Police estimates. The crowd later dwindled to about 75 people, according to the state police.

Banner confirmed that some demonstrators were openly carrying firearms.

There was one altercation between two protesters, in which one tried to take a sign out of another's hand, state police said. One of the protesters involved was in possession of an ax, which was turned over to law enforcement.

Banner said the "circumstances surrounding the altercation (are) being investigated and will be forwarded to the prosecutor's office for review."

No injuries and no arrests were made during the protest, Michigan State Police Lt. Brian Oleksyk said in a video posted to Twitter.

"Attendees who attended the demonstration complied with law enforcement and safely exercised their right to demonstrate," Oleksyk said.

Ahead of the protest, Michigan United for Liberty on Wednesday encouraged participants to remain "peaceful and respectful."

Michigan State Police warned of the consequences of brandishing a weapon. Michigan allows licensed gun owners to carry a firearm in public.

"While our desire is to interfere as little as possible in demonstrations, we will not allow unlawful, threatening or intimidating behavior," Col. Joe Gasper, director of the state police, said in a statement Wednesday.

There have been multiple protests in the state's capital city of Lansing in the past few weeks, including one late last month that saw protesters -- some of them armed -- entering the Capitol.

In his statement, Gasper said to expect an increased presence of Michigan State Police "based on safety concerns expressed following previous demonstrations."

Attorney General Dana Nessel warned in a statement that "presence of heavily armed protestors at the Capitol unnecessarily creates a powder keg dynamic that is dangerous to protestors, law enforcement and public servants reporting to work at the Capitol."

"I vehemently support the First Amendment right to protest government actions at the Capitol or elsewhere around the state; however any such activity must be done in a manner that is safe and lawful," Nessel said.

Whitmer said on ABC's "The View" on Wednesday that the protests would make it more likely that the state will have to keep restrictions in place longer.

Thursday's protest comes as Whitmer has recently received a mounting number of death threats over her coronavirus response efforts.

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