Senator: Threats are 'about spreading blood' on Michigan Capitol lawn

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Heated speeches at the end of the Michigan Senate session Tuesday featured Democratic lawmakers demanding action to limit guns in the Capitol and the Republican leader denouncing threats against the Democratic governor.

The speeches came less than two weeks after dozens of protesters openly carried firearms inside the Capitol building as they demonstrated against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order, which is meant to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Another protest is scheduled for Thursday in Lansing.

At one point Tuesday, Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, referenced threats levied against Whitmer in private Facebook groups. McMorrow said the threats weren't about being required to stay home but were "about spreading blood on the front lawn of this building."

Michigan State Police, in medical masks, on the sides of the lawn of the Michigan Capitol.

McMorrow also mentioned individuals who carried guns in the Senate gallery above lawmakers during the April 30 protest.

"That is damn intimidating," she said during her speech. "That is intimidation and it is not welcomed. My question back is: What the hell are we going to do about it? Or do we wait until something happens?"

McMorrow's speech came a day after the Michigan Capitol Commission, a six-member panel in charge of maintaining the Capitol grounds, formed a committee to study whether it could ban guns in the building.

Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, says the commission has the power to impose a ban, but other lawyers say such a limitation would require action from the Legislature.

On Monday, Sen. Dayna Polehanki, D-Livonia, called on the Capitol Commission to act to "avoid a catastrophic incident."

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, responded, saying officials shouldn't stand "cowardly" behind the Capitol Commission. Law enforcement should act when people improperly brandish weapons, Shirkey said.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

Under Michigan law, brandishing a weapon is described as pointing, waving about or displaying "in a threatening manner with the intent to induce fear in another person."

"I am calling upon, right now, our governor and our attorney general, if those situations, where it appears they have breached the line of brandishing, that those individuals be properly handcuffed ... fingerprinted and given a very longstanding photo that they can frame at home," Shirkey said.

In response, Nessel encouraged Shirkey to restrict guns in the Capitol, saying the identity of mass shooters "is generally unknown to law enforcement until many casualties occur."

"I would urge you to take quick action before any lives are needlessly lost," Nessel added. "The life you end up saving may be your own."

The exchange came two days before the group Michigan United for Liberty is scheduled Thursday to hold another protest against COVID-19 restrictions.

In Facebook posts, the group describes the upcoming event as a three-in-one protest at Nessel's office, Whitmer's office and the Capitol.

"We are here to give a voice to the voiceless," another post from the organization said Tuesday. "The media is here to run a smear campaign."

A counter protest is also planned for Thursday, according to a Facebook event page called "Stand Up to Rightwing Extremists and White Supremacy." The page says an organization will provide "armed security for our elected representatives" and "there is potential for armed conflict."

Shirkey, the GOP Senate leader, gave two speeches Monday morning. The second focused on guns in the Capitol. The first responded to threats made against Whitmer on social media.

On Monday, Whitmer called on Republican lawmakers to denounce death threats against her levied in private Facebook groups. The threats werefirst reported by Detroit Metro Times.

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, left, speaks at a press conference on the state's COVID-19 response on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Shirkey condemned those "who have populated a number of social media posts with crude, violent and threatening messages about our governor.”

"These folks are thugs and their tactics are despicable," Shirkey said. "It is never OK to threaten the safety or life of another person, elected or otherwise, period."

He continued, "The moment an individual or group embraces the threat of physical violence to make a point is the moment I stop listening."

Shirkey said lawmakers are listening to people voicing frustration about the government's handling of the pandemic without threatening others.

"To the families who are struggling to help teach children while they work from home, we are listening," Shirkey said. "To the men and women who are struggling to pay their bills and navigate the perils of filing for unemployment, we are listening. To the business owners who are worried about when and how they will reopen their businesses, we are listening. To the employees who are eager to regain their livelihoods, we are listening."