Michigan Residents Fear Erosion of Civil Liberties During COVID-19 Pandemic, Speak Out Against Whitmer’s Orders
It has been 43 days since Gov. Whitmer declared the state of emergency in response to Michigan’s first few COVID-19 cases.
Since then, Michiganders have experienced a wide range of emotions, from fear of the virus to anger with the government’s response. With the pandemic taking over virtually every component of daily life and the news cycle, some citizens find it hard to focus on anything but COVID-19. Yet there exists a subset of Michigan residents who worry not only for their own and their loved ones’ health, but for the existence and protection of civil liberties in the midst of an unprecedented global health crisis that has forced federal and state governments to decide on and execute widespread lockdown efforts in a short period of time.
For many Michiganders, health is just one of countless worries. Small business owners are suffering from several executive orders that restrict their ability to operate. In businesses that are allowed to remain open, there has been confusion throughout the state in regard to what they are allowed to produce and sell. The poor communication between Gov. Whitmer, authorities, and business owners has resulted in frustrated customers, employees, and employers alike.
Leelanau County Sheriff Michael Borkovich sees firsthand how this intense stress affects people. “People are calling the police on their fellow citizens because they are in a defensive mode. When kids are playing outside the neighbor’s house, the people who don’t let their kids go outside will call and ask us, ‘Now why are their kids outside? And what are you going to about the Illinois license plate down the road?’ People are starting to turn on other people, just like rats when they run out of food. They eat each other,” said Borkovich.
Some citizens have taken matters into their own hands by practicing civil disobedience and writing letters to elected officials in protest of measures that they see as government overreach. A Facebook group named “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” has over 363,000 members. Members of the group worry that the state government has used the COVID-19 crisis to effectively roll back their rights as American citizens.
Benjamin Chad, a furloughed service adviser to a car dealership in Auburn, Michigan, plans to remember the Michigan government’s actions during this crisis for future elections. In the meantime, though, he is making his voice heard. “My number one priority is getting to the ballot box. There’s already a recall effort for our governor. I’ve signed more than one petition. I plan on driving to sign one in person soon,” said Chad.
A catalyst of the unrest has been the governor’s orders to make certain activities and businesses that could be continued while following social-distancing guidelines illegal. To not permit the operation of businesses that could still be safely in service seems like an antagonistic move to those fearing bankruptcy and an inability to pay their bills during this time. Some frustrated residents wonder why the governor would not try to keep as many businesses operating safely as possible in order to prop up the economy and save peoples’ livelihoods in this time of economic uncertainty.
Sheriff Borkovich, in partnership with the sheriffs of Benzie, Mason, and Manistee counties, has tried to reassure his county by signing a public letter last week stating that his deputies would continue to put the Constitution first and protect citizens’ civil rights in the face of Whitmer’s executive orders.
“This is turning into something that scares people, they think we’re going to violate their civil rights. Several people have asked us, ‘Are you going to just pull us over driving on the road and ask us where we’re going?’ They’re referencing 1939 Germany,” said Borkovich, “We will pull over people for drunk driving, excessive speeding, things like that. We will not pull people over out of nowhere and ask them for their papers like it’s a dictatorship.”
Chad, among thousands of others in the “Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine” group, has questioned whether it is within Gov. Whitmer’s authority to issue some of the clauses in her various executive orders.
“I disagree with, from a civil rights perspective, all of the orders. As the governor, I believe she has the right to advise, but to tell people they can’t do something, especially in clear violation of the Constitution, that’s out of bounds,” said Chad.
The rules vary depending on which store is visited, as the executive orders are difficult to keep up to date with and have not been well communicated by the governor’s office. Members of the group call out seemingly contradictory actions approved by Whitmer; for example, a person can enter a store to shop for food, but they may not be able to shop in the same store for wall paint. The group is full of posts documenting anecdotes about Michiganders unable to go to stores and buy certain items because they have not been deemed essential by the governor.
Valli Metro, a retired resident of Saginaw, has a 92-year-old father living twenty miles from her for whom she is responsible. Metro says she worries about getting stopped by police for traveling and bringing her father groceries, as she claims some of her friends have experienced. She has found it difficult to justify some of the orders, especially those concerning shopping.
“Obviously, you have to do certain things to fight a virus. However, when I went into Walmart and the garden supply area was taped off, and the hardware was taped off, but every other department was not…the viruses don’t just stay in one aisle, they travel. I think most Michiganders were complying until this stuff became so contradictory,” said Metro.
The Wednesday, April 15 protest, nicknamed “Operation Gridlock”, in Lansing gained national attention and has since inspired demonstrations in other states including Ohio, Minnesota, and Virginia. Michigan protestors have lit a spark that has grown into a slow fire burning across the United States as Americans increasingly begin to question certain stay at home measures and stand up for their civil liberties.
Americans have never been known to sit down and stay quiet, and it seems a pandemic will not change that. “I tell people to live their lives. I tell them to social distance, be careful with handwashing, and wear makes. But we want Americans free,” said Borkovich.
With the restrictions on the cusp of spilling into their third month in Michigan, resistance against some orders is continuing to grow both within the state and across America. “I can make decisions for myself,” said Metro, “Americans are not children and should not be treated as such.”