Demonstrators from coast to coast defy stay-at-home orders to call for ‘sensible’ easing of restrictions, allowing people to work again
BY BOWEN XIAO
April 22, 2020 Updated: April 26, 2020
In a growing number of states across the country, at least 10 so far, crowds of Americans are peacefully gathering to protest lockdown measures that have upended nearly every aspect of their day-to-day lives.
As the country’s unemployment rate continues to soar, tensions that were already high are boiling over, as a once-vibrant economy has been brought to a standstill by measures to stop the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, also known as the novel coronavirus.
Governors across the nation have enacted strict stay-at-home measures and have ordered schools and some businesses to close in a bid to counter the spread of the virus—and it appears to be working. At the same time, complaints of draconian measures and reports of incidents reminiscent of a “police state” are on the rise.
Interviews with more than a dozen people, from diverse backgrounds, say the situation is complex and warrants a multifaceted approach. Some, including demonstrators and constitutional experts, argue the lockdown measures are too harsh and unnecessary for those living in rural areas. Others, meanwhile, strongly support the current actions, saying they are critical to saving lives.
A key concern fueling the resentment is that the measures imposed are placing the nation on a slippery slope with regard to infringement upon citizens’ basic freedoms and constitutional rights, and that some form of sensible, targeted reopening is warranted in certain parts of states.
In recent weeks, an uptick of what protesters have called tyrannical acts—the $1,000 fining of a lone surfer in a California beach, a ban on selling seeds, soil, and plants in Michigan, the arrest of a Louisiana pastor for holding church services, the New York City mayor urging residents to report those violating rules, and the floating of a ban on gun sales in New Orleans—have sparked a different kind of fear.
While some states have decided to extend their lockdowns into the coming months, at least 20 states are planning to reopen their economies “in the very near future,” according to President Donald Trump. Recently, there have been protests in Colorado, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Minnesota, North Carolina, Utah, Washington state, Maine, and New Jersey.
‘We Lost Our Rights’
John Beaulieu had never joined a protest before. The 50-year-old from Androscoggin County, Maine, said he felt compelled to do something after a letter by the Lewiston, Maine, Police Department warned that those violating the emergency order “shall be issued a criminal summons or arrested.”
“I did not want to go protest. I actually had to convince myself that I had to go,” he told The Epoch Times. “This is just a violation of everything that is American. This isn’t China—we don’t do this.”
After searching on Facebook, Beaulieu found state Rep. Chris Johansen, a Republican, was organizing a “Re-open Maine” event where those attending were asked to maintain social distancing and to wear protective masks. Beaulieu attended the April 20 protest in Augusta among roughly a few hundred others.
Meanwhile, Facebook has begun banning pages used to organize anti-lockdown protests.
On March 31, Maine Gov. Janet Mills issued a stay-at-home order for all residents and visitors; businesses deemed “nonessential” were also ordered to close. As of April 22, there were 888 cases of the CCP virus in the state and 36 deaths.
CCP VIRUS SPECIAL COVERAGE
“They declared this crisis and we lost our rights overnight,” Beaulieu said. “Obviously, I believe we are going to get back to being normal.”
But Beaulieu said he started to feel a fear that he’s never felt before, and it wasn’t because of the virus.
“This is never going to sound good, but after this has happened I want to go buy a gun and protect my home because I saw how quickly everything changed overnight,” he said. “I feel threatened by my own government. … Maine is one of the least populated states in the country, we shouldn’t have shut down.”
Meanwhile, a thousand miles away, a similar sentiment is brewing.
On April 15, thousands in Michigan took part in the “Operation Gridlock” protest organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition and Michigan Freedom Fund. Those attending were told to stay in their vehicles and to circle the Michigan Capitol Building.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, has expanded stay-at-home restrictions in the state, including banning lawn and landscaping services, motor boating, and golf. In addition, large stores can’t sell paint, furniture, or garden equipment; long drives are prohibited unless deemed “critical”; and people can’t even travel to vacation or second homes. She said on April 21 that some form of stay-at-home restrictions will continue beyond May 1.
Meshawn Maddock, co-founder of the Michigan Conservative Coalition and one of the organizers of Operation Gridlock, told The Epoch Times that before planning the demonstration, the organizers were fielding countless phone calls and emails from people who were “absolutely terrified.”
“Their life savings are being dwindled away,” she said. “They’re shuttering their businesses and are not allowed to work. … We felt like we needed to give them some way of releasing that tension.”
Maddock criticized the governor’s extensive restrictions, adding that residents are starting to feel more like they are under house arrest than in quarantine and many feel like they are “being punished.”
While some are rightfully afraid of the disease that has ground the world to a near-halt, she also said people are afraid of leaders behaving tyrannically.
The daily numbers of those infected with or dying from COVID-19 in Michigan are less than 10 percent of the dire predictions that estimated more than 2,000 people perishing per day, Maddock said. She says she doesn’t believe the disparity is attributable to the shutdown measures, but more that the estimates were “way off.”
According to the latest government data, there have been more than 32,000 cases of the virus in Michigan and 2,700 deaths.
“[Whitmer] wants people to plow through their life savings so that we’re more dependent on the governor, and we’re more dependent on government,” Maddock said.
Maddock stressed that their protests aren’t advocating for a total reopening for the economy, but for the governor to safely get some people back to work immediately and to lift some of the “ridiculous restrictions.”
“There are counties in Michigan that have no COVID-19 cases, and probably never will,” Maddock said. “And they’re still suffering the same arbitrary orders. That’s ridiculous.”
As of April 22, there are over 819,000 confirmed cases of the virus across the United States, as well as 45,356 deaths attributed to the disease. More than 83,000 have reportedly recovered.
David Campbell, vice chairman of the Effingham County, Illinois, Board, attributed the growing anti-lockdown sentiment to a lack of common sense being exercised by some governors. He said some are trying to make blanket rules and apply them equally to everyone in the state.
“This simply does not work effectively,” he told The Epoch Times. “While most people can certainly understand the need for continued restrictions … in the more rural areas, the majority of people think these are over-the-top and burdensome restrictions that are crippling our economy.”
People should return to work sooner, rather than later, for the sake of people’s livelihoods, said Campbell, who’s concerned that some of the restrictions are going to stick around “longer than a virus will.”
Mark Tulay, a small-business owner from Virginia, told The Epoch Times via email he fears the protests will likely intensify in the coming weeks, as the lockdown takes a larger toll on people’s health and well-being.
When the CCP virus first started to spread in the United States, people were more tolerant of stringent lockdown measures, in order to buy time for medical and government leaders to figure out solutions. But in recent weeks, the United States has learned much.
“Based on what we now know today, the lockdown measures, let alone the arrests and fines, are both unlawful and inappropriate,” Matt C. Pinsker, an attorney and constitutional law professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, told The Epoch Times.
For low-risk persons, it’s difficult to justify the limiting of rights, he said, describing some local authorities as becoming “petty tyrants” in implementing measures that deprive the liberties of people, but have no rational connection to stopping the virus.
Pinsker pointed to recent cases, including a ban on drive-in church services enacted by Louisville, Kentucky, Mayor Greg Fischer, a Democrat. A Louisville church later sued the city and a federal judge ruled against the mayor enacting any future bans.
In one incident captured on video, a former police officer was arrested for breaking social distancing rules as he was playing ball with his daughter.
Recent events have already set a precedent, in which the government “can violate any and all rights of the individual if it just invokes the word ‘crisis,’” according to Donald Kendal, research fellow and co-leader of the Stopping Socialism Project at The Heartland Institute.
“Remember, the lockdown measures were not put in place to ensure no one succumbed to the virus; the lockdown measures were put in place to ‘flatten the curve,’ to ensure hospitals were not overrun by sick patients,” he said.
Michael Dimino, a constitutional law expert who teaches at Widener University’s Commonwealth Law School, told The Epoch Times via email there is always a risk government power will be abused, especially during emergencies.
While Americans understand the need to limit mass gatherings during the outbreak of a deadly disease, “the government must recognize that our constitutional freedoms, such as our rights to free speech, assembly, and religion, may not be limited capriciously,” he said.
America is now sliding toward tyranny, according to Paul Engel, an author who has spent 20 years researching the Constitution.
“Videos have surfaced of police officers telling citizens that their rights have been suspended by executive order. If that were possible, then they were not rights, but privileges,” he told The Epoch Times. “The very fabric of what made the United States of America a unique country, that of the rule of law, has been washed away.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat, has threatened to “permanently” close religious meeting places for not following his orders. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, another Democrat, said weeks ago that “snitches” in his city will get “rewards” if they report neighbors who violate stay-at-home restrictions.
While some state constitutions allow their governments to restrict commerce, forcing people to stay at home violates the 14th Amendment, which protects against states depriving people of their life, liberty, or property without due process, according to Engel. The U.S. Constitution, the supreme law of the land, has “been brushed aside like last week’s garbage,” he said.
“People have forgotten that the primary purpose of government is not to keep you safe, but to protect your rights,” Engel added.
James Hartman, a political consultant in New Orleans, warned that if people expect authorities to enforce such measures, jails will burst at the seams, becoming their own COVID-19 hotspots. If authorities issue citations or summonses, it will clog the courts when the justice system reopens as people will undoubtedly fight them, or simply ignore them.
“It would be virtually impossible for the federal government to impose long-term lockdowns,” Hartman said.
Andrew Jezic, an attorney and founding partner of Jezic and Moyse LLC, said the current measures are appropriate steps toward controlling the disease, adding that the 10th Amendment gives the states “police power,” a broad term that affords the police the ability to protect and promote public safety and health.
“Enforcement of these measures does not necessarily mean officials need to take punitive measures,” he said. “When arrests are made, and the argument turns to individual rights vs public safety, the legality of lockdown measures will need to be decided by the courts.”
Vinay Amin, a health expert and the CEO of Eu Natural, told The Epoch Times via email that he strongly supports the shutdowns in place, saying that they are working to slow the epidemic and that “health is too important to jeopardize in any way.”
Robert Bird, professor of business law at the University of Connecticut, told The Epoch Times via email that governments have the discretion to undertake emergency measures in times of crisis, but also cautioned about enforcing unnecessary intrusions into individual life.
The virus has brought out stark political differences in people who view the same situation in vastly different ways, according to Daniel Odescalchi, president of Strategic Advantage International, a political consulting and public opinion management firm.
He told The Epoch Times that those living in rural areas feel the economic squeeze far more but benefit from being less crowded and therefore, don’t suffer the virus as severely. He said if he were in their shoes, he may have similar sentiments.
Follow Bowen on Twitter: @BowenXiao_