The Black Panthers carried guns to save their community from police violence. Michigan demonstrators carried guns because they wanted…
Two members of the Black Panther Party are met on the steps of the State Capitol in Sacramento, May 2, 1967, by Police Lt. Ernest Holloway. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Images
That’s a strong picture above: Members of the Black Panther Party on the steps of the California state house in 1967, armed with loaded rifles. Was your reaction physical? Did you squint your eyes, contort your face, tilt your head, maybe rock back in your seat a bit? I can imagine it, because that was my response when I saw this picture:
A group of White men, in masks, open-carrying AR-15 and AK-47 rifles on the steps of the Michigan State Capitol less than two weeks ago. What they were protesting wasn’t gun-control legislation, as the Black Panthers had been, but state governor Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order. At the time of the protest, it was one of the strictest measures put in place across the country in hopes of flattening the curve of the Covid-19 pandemic. Michigan is the tenth largest state in the country, but has the third most deaths in the nation behind New York and New Jersey — with more than 38,000 confirmed cases and 3,400 deaths.
This protest, “Operation Gridlock Michigan,” was organized in conjunction with Michigan Freedom Fund and Michigan Conservative Coalition, the former of which is backed by the billionaire family of Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump’s education secretary. The protesters were upset that they were not allowed to travel to in-state vacation residences or use a motorboat. They were upset that large stores had closed areas dedicated to non-survival-related items like carpeting, flooring, furniture, paint, garden centers, or plant nurseries (after all, it’s a must to plant hyacinths and tulips on the first day of spring). They called the order tyrannical, holding signs comparing Whitmer to Hitler, chanting “Lock her up!”
But that wasn’t the only image that left me unsettled. So did this one, from a follow-up protest staged in front of the governor’s residence — a home that she shares with her children.