By Monday morning local time, ‘Go to China’ was trending on Twitter in the United States as many took to the platform to share and discuss the protester’s controversial remarks.
Indeed, many say the faceoff — between a woman in a stars-and-stripes jersey demanding a return to normalcy, and a man in medical garb blocking her path — illustrates a rift that is now tearing at the seams of the United States: between those who want to reopen society despite the coronavirus pandemic, and those working on the front lines to handle its devastation.
“You go to work. Why can’t I go to work?” the woman asked in the video. “I’ve saved people’s lives, too!”
It was unclear whether the man and others in medical garb had planned to stage a counterprotest or merely blocked the cars. On Monday, the Denver Police Department confirmed that the individuals wearing medical gear had been asked by officers to exit the roadway and complied. They were not cited or otherwise disciplined, a spokesman for the department said in an email.
Since the middle of last week, similar demonstrations — many of them organized under the banner “Operation Gridlock” — have broken out in state capitals around the country, as crowds of protesters have demanded that both Democratic and Republican governors reopen their states’ economies, even though covid-19 is still killing thousands of Americans each day.
Efforts in at least four such states have been organized by a trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs, The Post reported, with many taking the form of drive-in or drive-by protests near statehouses.
On Sunday, those efforts arrived in Colorado. For four hours, a crowd of protesters filled downtown Denver, the site of the viral video. The rode in trucks and vans and on motorcycles and even a horse as they honked and waved “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, according to the Denver Post.
Zenn, who first shared the viral post, wrote: “Two nurses, who have witnessed first hand the toll covid is taking in Colorado stood up and peacefully protested. Here is how they were treated."
Photos of the confrontation were also shared to Facebook by photojournalist Alyson McClaran. She identified the individuals standing in the middle of the street as health-care workers, although The Washington Post could not independently confirm that.
Colorado is currently under a stay-at-home order until April 26, and Gov. Jared Polis (D) has said he wants to reopen the state in phases, starting with a reversal of that order.
As of early Monday, state health officials had reported more than 9,700 cases of the virus in Colorado, including at least 422 fatalities. In total, more than 40,680 people have died of covid-19 in the United States since the first death was reported in February.
But pressure on Polis and other governors has nonetheless been mounting. Douglas County, in Denver’s southern suburbs, has been making its own plans to reopen, and Ashley Smith, the mayor of Cañon City, Colo., wrote a letter to the governor telling him that small businesses in her town were growing increasingly upset.
“It’s gone from frustration into anger,” Smith told Colorado Public Radio over the weekend. “It will definitely be the breaking point for folks, and I’m really worried."
On Sunday, President Trump spoke out in favor of those protesting the stay-at-home measures, saying that the restrictions enacted by some governors “have gone too far."
By then, however, other images of the demonstrations had already spread across the Internet, snapshots of the rising anger against the government over stay-home orders that have shut down the economy.
Over the weekend, photos emerged of a woman outside a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store near Los Angeles, carrying a sign that read “Give me liberty or give me death.” The image was snapped by Jamie Lee Curtis Taete in Huntington Beach CA.
Eerie images of protesters, with their faces pressed against glass windows looking into the Ohio statehouse, drew cinematic comparisons.
Images from these incidents have not only stunned those staying at home but also people overseas. Many Britons took to social media Monday to comment on the spreading protests.
Many appeared confused by scenes of people taking to the streets during a period of lockdown and social distancing measures. Some referred to the protests as “crazy,” while others noted, “Only in America.”
Hassan reported from London.