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.
‘We Lost Our Rights’
“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.”
“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.”
MichiganOn 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.
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.”
“[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.”
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.
The ConstitutionWhen 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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.