DETROIT – As photographs of gun-carrying protesters in Michigan’s Capitol building made the rounds nationally, one has emerged as a defining image of last week’s demonstration over the governor’s orders amid the coronavirus pandemic.
An unmasked man, mid-scream, yelling within inches of two police officers.
There have been memes and chatter on social media about the screaming protester, even misidentifications of him as a Los Angeles activist.
But he isn’t from California. He is from New Hudson, Michigan. And his name is Brian Cash.
“Yes, that’s me,” the 52-year-old flooring installer told the Free Press on Monday when asked to confirm whether he is the man in the photo, taken by Jeff Kowalsky, a photographer working for Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Cash, who said he has now been to four protests in Lansing in the past month, said he was demonstrating against the inequities of the governor’s executive orders, which he called “just ridiculous.”
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Cash said he wasn’t yelling at the state troopers seen in the photo – “I didn’t scream in anybody’s face” – but at an officer positioned behind them who he said he saw assault a woman the day before. Three women were removed from the public gallery for the state House of Representatives on April 29. The incident was caught on video, showing a woman being forcibly removed. The incident prompted an announcement by the Michigan State Police that it was investigating the confrontation between individuals and House police.
The next day, when the now-infamous photo of him was taken, Cash said he was in the Capitol when he saw the officer.
“I was there chanting, ‘Let us in,’ and I saw that guy and I just, I just kind of lost it a little bit,” Cash said. He said that he was asking the man, whom he called a “red coat,” a reference to the red coats they wear, “if he wanted to try to throw me around like he did that girl yesterday.”
The protests have been criticized. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Friday called the protests, which featured some people holding rifles, “disturbing,” and now the state is considering a ban on guns inside of the Capitol. Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for White House coronavirus response, called the protests “devastatingly worrisome” in a Fox News Sunday interview.
Cash, who said he was not armed at the protest, said he was yelling between the two Michigan State Police troopers in the photo, not at them. But the photo was criticized online. “These are the same people who tell you to ‘respect the police,’ ” one Twitter user posted. Another wrote: “Would officers show this much restraint if black men were yelling in their faces?”
Cash, who described himself as a longtime marijuana activist having worked on efforts to legalize it in Michigan, was upset with accusations that protesters were racist and blamed the media, which he said “twists everything.”
He said his experience that day was “awesome” and said “anybody of any color should have the right to do what I did.”
But Whitmer on Friday said: “Yesterday’s scene at the Capitol was disturbing, to be quite honest. Swastikas and confederate flags, nooses and automatic rifles do not represent who we are as Michiganders. This state has a rich history of people coming together in times of crisis.”
Cash, said he has received hundreds of Facebook Messenger messages since the photo was published. He said he has received support and also negative attention for the photograph, but he doesn’t care.
“I love it. It’s great,” he said. Cash added that people have “their right to disagree and call me names.”
Cash said he plans to attend more protests in Lansing and he likes the national attention they have garnered.
“I love it,” he said. “We got the ball rolling.”
Contributing: First Draft. Follow Gina Kaufman @ReporterGinaon Twitter:
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