Groups plan protests outside of Illinois State Capitol over stay-at-home order

(The Center Square) – More protests over Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order are expected in the coming days and weeks ahead.

Protesters want to open the state up and assert their rights.

The state’s schools, certain businesses and other operations have been grounded since March 21 under emergency orders designed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In that time students’ futures became less certain, elective surgeries have been put on hold, churches have been told not to hold in-person services, businesses have laid-off workers and in Illinois more than half a million people filed for unemployment in just a matter of weeks, eclipsing the total number of unemployment claims filed last year.

Last week at the capitol in Springfield, five people held signs urging the governor to open the state’s economy back up.

One group called Operation Gridlock gathered for a demonstration on Sunday in Springfield. They plan another this Sunday.

Jeff Ellis said he promotes the Re-Open Illinois protest with events in Springfield and Chicago on May 1. He said it’s not just about the economic damage being done because businesses are closed. It’s also rights being trampled, he said.

“The economics are a symptom. The disease is the violation of the Constitution,” Ellis said. “Had this been left in the hands of responsible citizens then there never would have been this issue.”

Last week, Pritzker had a message for protestors.

“I want to remove the restrictions as much as anybody else does and I’m going to do it based on science,” the governor said.

Critics of protests during a pandemic have said individual rights shouldn’t be allowed if it threatens public safety. Ellis said he doesn’t deny COVID-19 is a health concern.

“However, with the symptom here, we’re getting much bigger backlash because of the way it’s being handled in other places,” Ellis said.

Ellis said he has been encouraging protesters to abide by social distancing guidelines and face-covering recommendations.

One thing Springfield Police Chief Kenny Winslow said protesters in Springfield can expect is for law enforcement to step in if demonstrators try to block traffic without a permit.

“We will take care of that as we did this week,” Winslow said. “That’s when the issue started is when they tried blocking traffic, etcetera, and that’s when we stepped up and got involved.”

There was some push back against Springfield police, who were not wearing personal protective equipment when interacting with the protesters Sunday. Winslow said those officers have been counseled on the importance of wearing personal protective equipment.

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