Thousands protest COVID-19 vaccination mandates in L.A.

Thousands of people gathered outside Los Angeles City Hall to protest COVID-19 vaccination mandates on Monday — the day the city began enforcing some of the nation’s strictest vaccination verification rules for businesses.

L.A. now requires proof of complete COVID-19 vaccination to go into 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 sustain 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.”

David, a 52-year-old man who, like many in attendance, declined to give his last name, said that he has worked for the Los Angeles Department of Water and strength for 13 years and that 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.

Protesters waved “thin blue line” and “thin red line” flags as signs of sustain for law enforcement, and among the crowd were members of the Los Angeles police and fire departments in addition as other city employees.

A Los Angeles mandate requires city employees to either get vaccinated by Dec. 18 or receive a medical or religious exemption, and in the meantime, to pay for regular COVID-19 testing from a city contractor.

Police officials have said about 75% of the Los Angles Police Department’s 12,000-plus workforce have been vaccinated. nevertheless, hundreds of personnel had not informed the department of their vaccination position 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 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 disturbing and that those enacting them don’t seem to understand.

“What’s going to happen to those businesses [that] can’t function?” he asked. “These politicians who don’t understand how these mandates impact people don’t have a clue.”

Times staff writers James Queally, Kevin Rector and Dakota Smith contributed to this report.

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