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Grand Rapids protesters speak out against stay-at-home orders

Chris duMond
Special to The Detroit News

Grand Rapids — A crowd gathered Monday for a demonstration dubbed the American Patriot Rally — Sheriffs Speak Out to protest Michigan's stay-at-home orders.

The rally came as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Monday laid out plans for a partial reopening of the state for Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula. 

Barry County Sheriff Dar Leaf told the crowd at Grand Rapids Rosa Parks Circle Ice Rink that he would not enforce Whitmer's stay-at-home orders, calling the measure unconstitutional.

Leaf, a 30-year veteran of law enforcement, called the governor’s orders confusing. “I do also question whether or not those are actually lawful orders,” he said.

“The lockdown, technically, that’s an arrest, and can she legally do that?" Leaf said to hundreds gathered. “My community has been doing really well doing their social distancing, masking up, I see a lot of people with hand sanitizer." 

Phil Robinson, center, of Michigan Liberty Militia, greets members from other militias that also provided security for the event.

As for enforcing the executive order, issuing citations or making arrests, Leaf said: “No, we're not enforcing any of that. As long as you’re doing the social distancing.” 

“You also have another problem there: is it legal for them to seize somebody’s property like that? You look what they did to that barber over there in Owosso, and quite frankly, I think that barber’s a patriot for what he’s doing, when he won his case in court, then they run over there and take his license without a hearing, yeah, now we have a problem.

“I think we also have to respect the fact that one right we don’t have, is that if you know you have the virus, you do not have the right to go walk around and give it to everyone else.” 

A Shiawassee County Circuit judge last week denied a request for a temporary restraining order from state Attorney General Dana Nessel that would have resulted in barber Karl Manke's Owosso shop being forced to immediately close again. Manke defied orders keeping nonessential businesses closed and reopened on May 9.

The order by Shiawassee County Circuit Judge Matthew Stewart came several hours after Nessel requested the judge issue a court order backing a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shutdown edict under the public health code for violating  Whitmer's order. 

Jon Lown, 28, of Grand Rapids, attends the "American Patriot Rally — Sheriffs Speak Out" event at Rosa Parks Circle in Grand Rapids, May 18, 2020. Lown "doesn't see the need to protest" and wants people to "stay home so we can all go back to our normal lives."

Manke, the barber turned maverick and hailed a hero by supporters, was joined outside his shop Monday by other Michigan business owners defying Whitmer's order and Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was jailed for reopening against her state's stay-home order. 

Organizers for Monday's event had urged participants to show up with weapons, stating “exercise your  Second Amendment right as a show of support to law enforcement in their fight against tyranny,” according to their website. Some participants carried weapons and militia flags; others waved American flags.

The Michigan Liberty Militia of Barry County was hired to provide security along with other militia groups. Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey also attended and held aloft a copy of the Constitution and a bible.

Leaf isn't the only law enforcer to say he wouldn't enforce Whitmer's order. 

Others, including Genesee County Sheriff Chris Swanson, have suggested they would not aggressively enforce stay-home orders amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Chris duMond is a freelance writer.