Religious leaders in southeast Michigan are calling on other faith and political leaders to condemn racist symbols displayed by some demonstrators at protests in Lansing.
Hundreds of protesters gathered again on Thursday at the state Capitol in violation of social distancing rules to protest Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay at home order. At an April 30 protest at the state Capitol building, some protesters displayed confederate flags, swastikas, and nooses.
Josh Whinston is a rabbi at Temple Beth-Emeth in Ann Arbor. He says political leaders should not be intimidated by the protests.
“There is no economy with thousands and thousands of dead workers. If the already overwhelmed medical system collapses, we will be up the creek health-wise, and economically. Medical folks tell us when it’s safe, not armed folks with symbols of bigotry and hatred,” he says.
Whinston says some protesters’ use of swastikas and confederate flags shows contempt for human life and for the experiences of Holocaust survivors.
Bill Wylie-Kellermann is a retired Methodist pastor living in Detroit and a member of the Michigan Poor People’s Campaign. He describes the open carry of firearms during the protests as an intimidation tactic.
“The contempt for human life embodied in the threatening open carry of these weapons is really one and the same with the willingness to risk the deaths of others, so disproportionate in black and brown communities,” he says.
He says systemic racism is a driver of disproportionate deaths from COVID-19 in black communities.
“White supremacy is always violent. That’s true whether it’s institutionally embedded, as in the present moment: in health care access, water shutoffs, evictions, and essential minimum wage workers without benefits, or whether it’s signaled by nooses, flags, and assault weapons,” he says.
The faith leaders called on politicians to listen to medical officials, not protesters, in making decisions on how to continue to open the state’s economy.