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Met with barricades, protesters circle the KY Capitol in cars to decry coronavirus restrictions

Kentucky state capitol (TEDD LiGGETT/WikiCommons)

Protesters returned to the state Capitol late Friday morning and were met with barricades erected by Kentucky State Police. They hung signs outside the windows of their pickup trucks, sedans, minivans and SUVs and circled the Capitol using car horns instead of megaphones to express their displeasure.

By noon, around 15 cars circled the Capitol for the drive-by protest of Gov. Andy Beshear’s coronavirus related restrictions, urging the governor to allow businesses across the state to reopen. Beshear has ordered the closure of all “non-life sustaining business,” some state parks and any in-person gathering of more than 10 people in order to help stop the spread of the virus.

More than 129 Kentuckians have died of coronavirus-related causes and at least 2,429 people have been infected. At least 28,998 people have died of the disease across the country, according to John’s Hopkins.

Around and around and around they went, honking their horns and waving flags (including one that proclaimed “Liberty or Death” with a picture of a coiled snake) for more than an hour. Signs were placed on the windshield or taped to the sides of their cars. One SUV had “Let us work!!!” painted on the back.

There were no speeches from sitting lawmakers, no man blowing a shofar and no people bunched together chanting like at the same group’s protest Wednesday, where their jeers could be heard over the live stream of Beshear’s press conference while he read off the daily death toll from the virus.

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The protests have been bolstered by President Donald Trump who on Friday sent three tweets in quick succession, saying “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!”, “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

All three states have Democratic governors and experienced protests over coronavirus-related restrictions. Several people at the protest Wednesday were wearing Trump campaign shirts and hats.

Some of Kentucky’s Republican elected officials have also weighed in, including U.S. Senator Rand Paul and Attorney General Daniel Cameron. Both expressed concern about Beshear limiting people’s ability to protest.

Gov. Andy Beshear and Dr. Steven Stack, Kentucky’s public health commissioner, were critical of that protest. On Thursday, Stack said there was a delicate balance between preserving the people’s right to protest and the public health risks, where if one person in the crowd had the highly contagious virus it could end up infecting many people.

“This is a really difficult tension between the people’s right to gather and the people’s right not to get hurt,” Stack said.

The group ended up listening to the public health recommendation. As state troopers looked on across the path, the protesters mostly stayed in their cars. One man, driving a white pickup truck with a sign that said “It’s about liberty,” got out of his car to hang an upside down American flag on one of the sticks the state police was using to keep people away from the Capitol.

Amid mounting tension as people itch to return to their normal lives, Beshear has started to talk more about what reopening Kentucky will look like and what it will take to allow people to return to their lives; chief among them testing capacity and an increased amount of personal protective equipment.

The governor has announced a partnership with six other states to set guidelines for reopening and has said he will talk about the metrics the state needs to hit before he starts easing restrictions.

Still, one thing is clear: those restrictions won’t be eased until at least May.

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© 2020 the Lexington Herald-Leader