Quarantine protesters carried rifles. Protesters of 1999 DPS takeover went through metal detectors. | Michigan Radio
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Quarantine protesters carried rifles. Protesters of 1999 DPS takeover went through metal detectors.

May 8, 2020

Last week, dozens of anti-lockdown protestors, some of them carrying firearms, crowded into the Michigan Capitol building to make their views known to the assembled lawmakers at full volume. It’s not unusual to see guns around the Capitol. Second Amendment Day brings gun enthusiasts to the House and Senate galleries every year. But photos and footage from the April 30 protest shook up a lot of people, and the Michigan State Capitol Commission is discussing whether some action might be appropriate. 

The conversation around guns, safety, and Michiganders' rights prompted Bridge Magazine reporter Jonathan Oosting to pose this question on Twitter: 

Only a couple of people who responded remembered a time when metal detectors were used to screen protestors visiting the Legislature. One of them was Michigan Advance reporter Ken Coleman. The issue at hand then wasn't gun rights, it was the state takeover of Detroit Public Schools in 1999. 

“At that time, it was a very controversial effort that caused hundreds of Detroit residents to travel 90 miles to Lansing to protest the state action that was happening at that time,” Coleman recalled.

Among those Detroit residents were parents, administrators, and civil rights activists. 

"[They] were concerned about the state's efforts to usurp home rule, if you will, and take over a school district that had duly elected men and women serving as its board of education,” Coleman said. 

Coleman was working as a legislative assistant for a Michigan House member at the time. He said that many individuals he spoke with that day in 1999 told him that being subjected to metal detector searches brought them back to Jim Crow era policies where African Americans were subject to a different set of laws than other citizens. 

According to several news sources, there was one protester at the April 30 rally arrested for a physical altercation with another protester. Coleman said he was disappointed to not see the Michigan law enforcement there take further action as many of the anti-lockdown protestors were not adhering to social distancing guidelines as they crowded into the Capitol building.

“I’m appalled by what I’ve seen over the last couple of weeks in Lansing protests,” Coleman said. “I’m a Michigan resident who feels like law enforcement has dropped the ball.”

Coleman said he’s been thinking about that day in 1999 after seeing images of the protesters at the Capitol last week. 

“It really caused me to think that while Michigan has been progressive in a lot of different ways politically, it still has a lot of challenges when it comes to race, to class, and to gender."

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Lia Baldori.