Bringing assault weapons to the Michigan Legislature for a protest against coronavirus restrictions? To one group, it’s why the Second Amendment exists. To many others, it’s unfathomable.
It was a first for Michigan state Sen. Sylvia Santana. Before heading to the statehouse in Lansing last Thursday, she slipped into a bulletproof vest.
Ms. Santana’s husband, a sheriff’s deputy, warned her about potential trouble at a rally to protest the decision to extend a coronavirus lockdown.
A group of armed white men entered the Capitol and shouted at lawmakers. To Ms. Santana, some were dressed like they were “going to war.” Several Confederate flags, a swastika, and a misogynistic sign aimed at Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could be seen outside.
“I thought that was very scary,” says Ms. Santana, an African American who represents parts of Detroit and all of neighboring Dearborn. “We’re there to do a job, and it’s not to dodge bullets as we try to do our jobs in a bipartisan fashion to make sure we’re keeping all Michiganders safe.”
Four days on from the protest, her concern lingers. The pandemic has intensified many societal fault lines – from health care inequities to political polarization – and gun control is no exception. Feeling that state officials are overreaching, a tiny minority of protesters are flexing their Second Amendment rights in Michigan and beyond.
But at a time of crisis, their crusade against the perceived tyranny of government is seen by many as tyrannical in its own right – recklessly using their liberties to intimidate others.
The core question is: Where should the line be drawn? For protesters, guns in statehouses is one of the purest expressions of the power the Second Amendment invests in citizens. But no constitutional right is absolute.
“Where do people who see no problem with guns downtown or near a hospital or in the legislature, where do they draw the line?” Sanford Levinson, co-author of “Fault Lines in the Constitution.” “That’s an interesting question both politically and legally, because courts are really receptive to line drawing. I don’t think you’d find any judge who says, ‘Yeah, I welcome guns in my courtroom.’”
In that way, the struggle over whether to allow firearms in legislatures “is part of the culture war,” he adds.
Today, 21 state capitols allow guns in some form, according to a Wall Street Journal report. But only a few, including Michigan, allow citizens to openly carry under the rotunda. Many Republican-led states balk at open carry in the people’s hall for personal safety reasons, and courts have upheld bans in places like legislatures and polling places, holding that guns can chill other people’s rights.
Elements of race have long played a role. The modern gun control movement is linked to the signing of the Mulford Act in 1967, which banned open carry in California. The bill gained momentum after two dozen Black Panthers legally brought firearms to the state capitol to protest against it. The National Rifle Association backed the bill.
Incidents like the one in Michigan, however, could do more to damage gun rights than advance them. “It’s really now an open question to what extent hard-line pro-gun policies are politically advantageous,” says Mr. Levinson, also a visiting professor at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Ms. Santana was certainly not persuaded. “I, as a state lawmaker, want to hear your concerns and your position on the issue. But I don’t feel that bringing assault weapons to the capitol and using symbols of hatred will make me understand your issue better.”
The scenes in Michigan, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, only make it harder to have already difficult conversations, others say. Part of self-defense is respecting the preferences other people have for their own security, which might mean leaving guns at home when overtones of intimidation are possible.
“When your eyes look at these pictures of groups of people … in a public building that is supposed to be a center of democratic exchange and debate, and you see a group of people carrying military weapons, that is not a vision of democracy,” says Hannah Friedman, a staff attorney at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco. “That’s a vision of intimidation by a minority of people.”
Such concerns were heightened further this weekend, when employees at businesses in Stillwater, Oklahoma, faced a threat of violence with a gun while trying to force customers to wear masks, as mandated by the local government.
But Ashley Phibbs has a different view.
Ms. Phibbs, a project manager and mother who helped organize the Michigan rally, acknowledged with regret that many in attendance didn’t abide by social distancing rules. She also confirmed the display of hate symbols. But she insisted those were agitators and not part of her group, Michigan United for Liberty, which has sprung up to oppose what members see as repressive COVID-19 restrictions.
“I know how it can seem to people who aren’t active in rallies and who are looking at it from the outside in, and I try to be very understanding of that,” says Ms. Phibbs. “But … I don’t think that anyone was there to really make anyone fearful. I didn’t see anything that would have really caused fear, aside from loud noises from the people yelling. But a lot of people are also sometimes afraid of guns in general.”
In the end, she says, “I think we were heard. I think overall [the rally] was positive.”
Other gun-rights advocates saw problems with the optics.
As he watched news from Michigan Thursday, Caleb Q. Dyer saw some familiar faces. The New Hampshire barista and former state legislator had been a keynote speaker at a Michigan Libertarian Party event last year.
But he worried that his friends in Michigan were sending “mixed messages” by failing to abide by public health rules.
In fact, he usually brings witty protest gear – such as a sign that says “arm the homeless” – to disarm fear. It’s a fine line, he says, between free speech and armed intimidation.
“People aren’t ready to have the discussion that a lot of these gun-carrying protesters want to have, which is that none of these laws are even remotely effective or just,” says Mr. Dyer. “But they’re not going to have that discussion if they cannot carry themselves in such a way that the opposition won’t think … that they’re murderous and violent.”
View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here
In many Western countries, it’s easy to take press freedom for granted.
Instances of fake news, clickbait, and hyper-partisan reporting are points of consternation in the modern media landscape, and can sometimes overshadow the greater good that unrestricted journalism provides to society.
Of course, the ability to do that important work can vary significantly around the world. Being an investigative journalist in Sweden comes with a very different set of circumstances and considerations than doing the same thing in a country such as Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.
Today’s map highlights the results of the 2020 Global Press Freedom Index, produced by Reporters Without Borders. The report looks at press freedom in 180 countries and territories.
Today, nearly 75% of countries are in categories that the report describes as problematic, difficult, and very serious.
While these negative forces often come in the form of censorship and intimidation, journalism can be a risky profession in some of the more restrictive countries. One example is Mexico, where nearly 60 journalists were killed as a direct result of their reporting over the last decade.
There is good news though: the number of journalists killed last year was the lowest since the report began in 2002.
Even better, press freedom scores increased around the world in the 2020 report.
Here are the scores for all 180 countries and territories covered in the report, sorted by 2020 ranking and score:
Which countries stood out in this year’s edition of the press freedom rankings?
Norway: Nordic Countries have topped the Press Freedom Index since its inception, and Norway (Rank: #1) in particular is an example for the world. Despite a very free media environment, the government recently mandated a commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the conditions for freedom of speech. Members will consider measures to promote the broadest possible participation in the public debate, and means to hamper the spread of fake news and hate speech.
Malaysia: A new government ushered in a less restrictive era in Malaysia in 2018. Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted were able to resume working, and anti-fake news laws that were viewed as problematic were repealed. As a result, Malaysia’s index score has improved by 15 points in the past two years. This is in sharp contrast to neighbor, Singapore, which is ranked 158th out of 180 countries.
Ethiopia: When Abiy Ahmed Ali took power in Africa’s second most populous country in 2018, his government restored access to over 200 news websites and blogs that had been previously blocked. As well, many detained journalists and bloggers were released as the chill over the country’s highly restrictive media environment began to thaw. As a result, Ethiopia (#99) jumped up eleven spots in the Press Freedom Index in 2020.
The Middle East: Though the situation in this region has begun to stabilize somewhat, restrictions still remain – even in relatively safe and stable countries. Both Saudi Arabia (#170) and Egypt (#166) have imprisoned a number of journalists in recent years, and the former is still dealing with the reputational fallout from the assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.
China: Sitting near the bottom of the list is China (#176). More than 100 journalists and bloggers are currently detained as the country maintains a tight grip over the press – particularly as COVID-19 began to spread. Earlier this year, the Chinese government also expelled over a dozen journalists representing U.S. publications.
As the world grapples with a deadly pandemic, a global economic shutdown, and a crucial election year, the media could find itself in the spotlight more than in previous years.
How the stories of 2020 are told will influence our collective future – and how regimes choose to treat journalists under this atypical backdrop will tell us a lot about press freedom going forward.
Remarkable scene at 12th and Grant, where two healthcare workers from a Denver-area hospital — they declined to say which or give their names — are standing in the crosswalk during red lights as a “reminder,” they say, of why shutdown measures are in place.
Two health care workers blocked a parade of protesters in Denver, Colorado on Sunday, who were storming the capitol to protest the state’s stay-at-home order.
Powerful images and videos of the standoff were widely shared on social media of the two unidentified people wearing scrubs and N95 masks, standing in a crosswalk blocking protesters’ vehicles. The two were identified as health care workers by photographers on the scene.
One video shared by Twitter user Marc Zenn, captured cars lined up and beeping their horns at the two medical workers, with a woman hanging out of her vehicle’s window shouting “Go to China if you want communism. Go to China,” and “You get to go to work, why can’t we?”
They say they’ve been treating COVID patients for weeks. Today most of the people driving by have been “very aggressive,” they say. I’ve been standing here for a few minutes and already seen two people get in their faces.
Hundreds of people showed up on foot and in their vehicles for two separate protests in Colorado’s capitol on Sunday. The protests were reportedly planned by ReOpen Colorado and “various Libertarian parties,” according to a local Denver news outlet. People attending the march were shown carrying American flags, “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and signs about reopening businesses and schools.
“Coloradans have a first amendment right to protest and to free speech, and the Governor hopes that they are using social distancing and staying safe,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ office said in a statement. “No one wants to reopen Colorado businesses and lift these restrictions more than the Governor, but in order to do that, Coloradans have to stay home as much as possible during this critical period, wear masks and wash their hands regularly to slow the spread of this deadly virus.”
As of Monday morning, Colorado has more than 9,700 cases of COVID-19, leading to at least 420 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins coronavirus tracker. The state of Colorado is set to continue its stay-at-home order until at least April 26, to slow the transmission of the virus.
Colorado isn’t the only state where protesters are demonstrating against their government’s stay-at-home orders—Several other states held protests over the weekend including Utah, Idaho, and Washington state. Last week, parts of Michigan, New York, Ohio, Virginia, North Carolina, and others also saw a wave of demonstrators.
President Trump encouraged the protesters last week during his Friday press briefing and in tweets which said to “liberate” multiple states holding protests.
In a Politico poll, 81% of Americans agreed we “should continue to social distance for as long as is needed to curb the spread of coronavirus, even if it means continued damage to the economy.” An NBC News poll found that 60% of responders agreed with keeping at-home restrictions.
“I am posting, for once, about something other than my dog.
I have seen 4 patients die, 5 get intubated, 2 re-intubated, witnessed family consent to make 2 more patients DNRs, sweat my butt off during CPR, titrated so many drips to no avail, watched vent settings increase to no avail. We are exhausted and at a total loss.
All of this in two shifts in a row.
Some of you people have never done EVERYTHING you could to save someone, and watched them die anyway, and it shows.
I would have no problem if you fools worried about your “freedom” all went out and got COVID. If only you could sign a form stating that you revoke your right to have medical treatment based on your cavalier antics and refusal to abide by CDC and medical professionals’ advice. If you were the only people who got infected during your escapades to protest tyranny, great. But that’s sadly not how this works.
You wanna complain because the garden aisle is closed? If you knew a thing about gardening, you’d know it’s too early to plant in Michigan. Your garden doesn’t matter. If killing your plants would bring back my patients, I would pillage the shit out of your “essential” garden beds.
Upset because you can’t go boating…in Michigan…in April…in the cold-ass water? You wanna tell my patient’s daughter (who was sobbing as she said goodbye to her father over the phone) about your first-world problems?
Upset because you can’t go to your cottage up north? Your cottage…your second property…used for leisure. My coworkers can’t even stay in their regular homes. Most have been staying in hotels and dorms, not able to see their spouses or babies.
All of these posts, petitions online to evade “tyranny”, it’s all such bullshit. I’m sorry you’re bored and have nothing to do but bitch and moan. You wanna pick up a couple hours for me? Yeah, didn’t think so. I wouldn’t trust most of you with patient care, anyway. Not just because of the selfish lack of humanity your posts exude, but because most of those posts and petitions are so riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors, that it makes me question your cognitive capacity.
Shoutout to my coworkers, the real MVPs.”