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Michigan Protest Sparks Conversation About the Black Panther Party and Gun Control

The scene outside of the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing Thursday, April 30 was like dejavu for some on social media. Some users found a protest dubbed the American Patriot Rally to be similar to that of the Black Panthers as they rallied at the California Statehouse in the late 1960s.

It was May 2, 1967, when two dozen armed Black men entered the California state Capitol. Ten of them would make their way to the back of the Assembly Chamber before being disarmed and marched away by the state police.

Michigan State Capitol protest
The scene inside the Michigan Capitol building in Lansing Thursday ((Video screenshot/ Daniel Newman Twitter)

Some Twitter users felt as if the American Patriot Rally should have ended similarly. Instead the group of men, some of them armed, had their temperatures checked before police officers allowed them into the capitol, where lawmakers were debating.

One Twitter user stated, “Weird how the black panthers were demonised for doing this outside a State House but when white people do it they’re allowed in the building,” in reference to the incident.

“They were right to do so then and they are right to do so now…” another replied.

It is legal to bear firearms inside the statehouse, and several demonstrators who openly carried their guns in the Senate gallery Thursday demonstrated that right. The question some have raised is was it the same for the Black Panther party in the 1960s.

The Assembly session had already begun in 1967 when Speaker Pro Tem Carlos Bee ordered that the men be removed. Once the men were forced outside of the chamber the police attempted to disarm them. The group argued for their rights to have the weapons as long as they were not concealed, according to The Sacramento Bee.

After the questioning, officers returned their weapons to them because “the intruders had broken no law,” the newspaper reports.

Following their release, the men left the Capitol and drove off with some companions who remained outside during the incident. Several police officers took the demonstrators to the city jail after the group drove into the 15th and L Streets service station.

An officer stated, “We’re going to take them all down and check them all out and we’re going to check out all these weapons,” despite the fact that the men had not been charged with any offense, according to The Sacramento Bee.

A statement that Bobby Seale of Oakland read on behalf of the Black Panther Party said, “The Black Panther party for self-defense calls upon the American people in general and the black people in particular to take careful note of the racist California Legislature which is considering legislation aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless at the very same time that racist police agencies throughout the country are intensifying the terror, brutality, murder and repression of black people.”

The group that gathered Thursday protested for state businesses to reopen on Friday, May 1 after Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, extended her stay-at-home mandate that she made in early April until May 15. No known arrests have been reported in connection with the Thursday incident.

Michigan has been ranked within the top five states in the United States to be mostly affected by the novel coronavirus, with 3,788 deaths and more than 41,000 infections recorded across the Midwestern state.

On Wednesday, April 29, Whitmer accused Republicans of treating the virus like a “political problem,” rather than “a public health crisis” after the Republican-controlled legislature refused her request to extend emergency orders and cleared a way for her to be sued over her handling of the pandemic, BBC news reports.

Many US states — including Georgia, Oklahoma and South Carolina — already have taken steps to loosen virus mitigation restrictions despite meeting certain recommendations, such as having a minimal amount of reported cases.

Thursday’s protest is believed to have been larger than one that took place on April 15, during which Michigan protesters sat in their cars in order to create traffic around the statehouse. It began with the group gathering outside of the capitol building chanting “Let us in!”, “Let us work” and “This is the people’s house, you cannot lock us out,”NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit.

“The virus is here,” Joni George, a demonstrator, told The Associated Press. “It’s going to be here… It’s time to let people go back to work. That’s all there is to it.”

President Donald Trump threw his support behind demonstrators on April 17, tweeting “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!”

But others on the floor felt otherwise during Thursday’s session.

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