LAPD will arrest anti-mask protesters who harass others, Garcetti says
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti condemned a group of anti-maskers who descended on Westfield Century City mall on Sunday in protest of COVID-19 health mandates, at times harassing employees and customers.
Police made no arrests Sunday but did take two reports of battery. Garcetti said that in the future, police officers will take action and arrest lawbreakers in such situations.
“Don’t test us on this because you will find yourself in jail, cited or dealing with prosecution,” the mayor said.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore earlier this week had defended his officers’ handling of such incidents without arrests, saying they had followed guidance from him and other police leaders to focus first on lowering tensions.
“Our effort here is not to escalate the situation,” he said.
He said officers had been given a specific set of instructions. They were told to first speak with the operator of whatever business was being protested, and then to support the operator in enforcing their mask requirements by informing protesters of the rules and asking them to comply.
Moore said officers would prefer not to reach the point of having to use force in such instances but are prepared to physically enforce the rules if violators refuse to comply because wearing masks is a critical issue.
“This is not just an expression of a political view,” he said. “This is a dangerous act that I am very concerned about.”
He said forcing people to obey health orders is “not a primary responsibility of the Police department,” but when people “start jeopardizing other people’s health and other people’s family members, that’s a bridge too far.”
The incident Sunday, which began at a Ralphs grocery store and then continued on to the upscale mall stunned customers and employees.
Videos on social media showed the group without masks walking through the grocery store and arguing with customers. In one video, a man can be seen rejecting an offer of a mask, stating, “I don’t need that; I don’t wear masks.”
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Another man said he tested negative for the coronavirus and called a customer at the market a “mask Nazi.” An unmasked woman tried to ram her shopping cart into a masked man, claiming that he hit her, and she was later seen kicking the man in a checkout line.
“Come on, patriots, show him what’s up,” she could be heard saying on the video.
It was the latest of several anti-mask protests in Los Angeles.
Two weeks ago, a group of maskless demonstrators forced its way into an Erewhon market in the Fairfax district in protest of coronavirus restrictions. Video showed at least six police vehicles near the Erewhon on Beverly Boulevard. A crowd of protesters chanted in front of the store, some shouting, “Open up L.A.!” One person yelled, “They want you to wear a mask, they want you to lock down!”
Public health officials say mask wearing is essential to prevent the spread of COVID-19. In California, public health mandates require that all residents wear face masks when outside their homes.
Los Angeles County on Thursday recorded its fourth-highest total of new coronavirus cases in a single day, according to a Times tally of local health jurisdictions,
On Thursday, 18,764 new coronavirus cases were reported, well above the daily average over the last week of about 14,000. There were 205 COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday, according to The Times’ tally, the sixth-highest death toll reported in a single day.
L.A. County is now averaging 171 COVID-19 deaths a day over the past week.
COVID-19 hospitalizations have stabilized at a high number recently, hovering between 8,000 and 8,100 from Monday through Wednesday — a level that has already plunged L.A. County’s hospitals into crisis and created a shortage of ambulances and increased wait times to drop off patients.
Already, hospital morgues and private mortuaries are full, and the National Guard has been asked to help store bodies at the county coroner’s office.
But the worst is probably yet to come. Most of the people hospitalized with COVID-19 in L.A. County were infected before Christmas. It won’t be until next week, experts say, that statistics indicate how much worse the post-holiday surge could be.
County Supervisor Hilda Solis and public health officials expressed dismay at the anti-mask protests.
“Despite what protesters claim, this is not a hoax,” Solis said. “Just take a look at our hospitals — hospitals where care now has to be rationed. And it will only get worse if we give in to demands to reopen at a time when our cases, hospitalizations and deaths continue to skyrocket.”
Solis added: “It is actually very counterproductive to end restrictions and let the virus spread even more uncontrollably. Doing so will only further damage the economy and continue to take lives.”
A Kaiser Family Foundation tracking poll found that 70% of Americans thought they could follow social distancing guidelines for more than six months or until a vaccine is widely available. About the same proportion say they wear a protective mask every time they leave their house.
Times staff writers Iris Lee and Hayley Smith contributed to this report.
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