Nathan Solis and Hailey Branson-Potts
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Thousands of people gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall to protest COVID-19 vaccination mandates Monday — the day the city began enforcing some of the nation’s strictest vaccination verification rules for businesses.
L.A. now requires proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to enter indoor restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, hair and nail salons, gyms, museums, bowling alleys, performance venues and other spaces.
Attendees of outdoor events with 5,000 or more people also have to show proof of vaccination or that they have recently tested negative for the coronavirus. The city’s rules are stricter than those imposed by Los Angeles County.
The new rules — along with employee vaccination mandates at many levels of government and for schoolchildren — have been deeply controversial.
At Grand Park outside City Hall on Monday, Cindy Lazo said she wanted to show support for her brother-in-law, an electrical engineer with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. He is the only financial provider for his family and is considering moving to another state, such as Texas, if he loses his job, she said.
Lazo, 39, held up a handmade sign that read: “I’m not anti Vaxx. I’m anti Mandates.”
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Many attendees refused to talk to a reporter — saying they did not want to speak to the “liberal media” — or declined to provide their last names, saying they feared retaliation from their employers. Several gave their name as “John Smith.”
Fifty-two-year-old David said he has worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power for 13 years and he was uncomfortable with the pressure to inject something into his body to keep a job.
“I’m here to show solidarity with fellow workers who want to protect and express their bodily autonomy,” David said. He refused to say whether he was vaccinated.
Signs at the protest included “Vaccines Kill,” “Freedom Not Force!” and “COVID Vaccines Are Toxic.” One read “Let’s Go Brandon” — code for “F— Joe Biden” — as did multiple T-shirts worn by demonstrators.
Some in the crowd wore hats touting the extremist Proud Boys, and one person held a sign supporting the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The largely unmasked crowd chanted “Freedom! Freedom!” and “We will not comply!” Speakers said their constitutional rights were being trampled by the mandates.
A loudspeaker played Buffalo Springfield’s 1966 protest song “For What It’s Worth” — “Stop, children, what’s that sound? Everybody look, what’s going down?” The song was written about a clash between young people and police on the Sunset Strip.
On Monday, protesters waved “thin blue line” and “thin red line” flags as symbols of support for law enforcement, and among the crowd were members of the Los Angeles police and fire departments as well as other city employees.
A Los Angeles mandate requires city employees, including police and firefighters, to either get vaccinated by Dec. 18 or receive a medical or religious exemption. In the meantime, they are required to pay for regular COVID-19 testing from a city contractor.
Medical experts say the vaccines are safe and effective, particularly at preventing the worst symptoms of COVID-19 and helping contain the spread of the virus, which has now killed more than 750,000 Americans.
Police officials have said about 75% of the Los Angeles Police Department’s 12,000-plus workforce has been vaccinated. Still, hundreds of personnel had not informed the department of their vaccination status as of last week, and thousands more were seeking exemptions.
LAPD Chief Michel Moore said final compliance notices were to be hand-delivered to most unvaccinated officers last week, giving them 48 hours to sign off on the conditions or be placed off duty pending disciplinary proceedings to separate them from the force.
The LAPD Office of the Inspector General confirmed via its Twitter account that it had received a complaint about officers believed to be attending the protest Monday in uniform. The LAPD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles firefighters union warned of service delays if the city loses firefighters because of the mandate. Last week, United Firefighters of Los Angeles City Local 112 President Freddy Escobar said that 76% of the city’s firefighter force is vaccinated, leaving about 800 firefighters who have not gotten the shots.
On Monday, Chris, a 39-year-old firefighter and paramedic from Long Beach who declined to give his last name, said he worried about staffing issues that could be exacerbated by firings over vaccinations.
“It’s basic math,” Chris said. “Response times are going to go up if they have to fire all of us.”
He said that the mandates were disruptive and that those enacting them don’t seem to understand.
“What’s going to happen to those businesses (that) can’t operate?” he asked. “These politicians who don’t understand how these mandates impact people don’t have a clue.”
Multiple speakers addressing the crowd identified themselves as police officers or firefighters and warned of staffing shortages and unanswered emergency calls, although dire warnings of mass exoduses of public safety officers have not come to pass in other cities.
Michael McMahon, a 14-year veteran of the LAPD who founded the group Roll Call 4 Freedom in opposition to the mandate, told demonstrators that he turned in his police badge and gun Friday because he refused to get vaccinated.
It was “one of the hardest days of my life,” he said.
McMahon said he “could not acquiesce in good conscience to submit my health” to a “still-experimental” injection.
“Thousands of city employees are struggling with these issues related to their employment, and I want to say to you all, from the bottom of my heart, I love you and I understand,” he said. “But coercion is not informed consent.”
Other speakers extolled home schooling to avoid vaccinations for children and touted the anti-parasitic medication ivermectin, despite the lack of scientific evidence that the drug treats or prevents COVID-19.
Some speeches were peppered with conspiratorial and apocalyptic language, warning that if people got the shot, their freedoms would be stripped away.
“We are fighting a communist takeover of our nation,” said Beverly Hills physician Simone Gold, founder of America’s Frontline Doctors, who has spread misinformation about COVID-19 and advocated unproven treatments, including hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin.
Gold — who participated in the Jan. 6 insurrection and is awaiting trial on charges of violent entry and disorderly conduct — urged protesters not to comply with employee vaccination mandates for the sake of their souls.
“If you bow to your employer, if you take a knee to your employer, the scar of your surrender will not fade,” she said. “Your belief in yourself will diminish, will weaken. This is actually their goal, to create a world where humans believe that they need overlords to think for them.”
(Times staff writers James Queally, Kevin Rector and Dakota Smith contributed to this report.)
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