LAPD vows arrests if protesters again disrupt Dodger Stadium vaccine site
Days after anti-vaccination and far-right protesters disrupted operations at one of the nation’s largest COVID-19 vaccination sites at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore on Tuesday said any such protests in the future would be met with quick arrests.
“Our action is to be immediate and swift in the sense of holding them accountable for that unlawful activity,” Moore said during a virtual meeting of the Police Commission in the morning.
Protests will be confined to an area near the stadium’s entrance in an effort to balance people’s 1st Amendment rights with the need to keep the vaccination site operating, Moore said. Officers, he added, will have no patience for a repeat of Saturday’s debacle, when maskless protesters roamed through the long queues of cars, intimidating people and stalling their entry into the stadium site.
The demonstrators included members of anti-vaccine and far-right groups.
“It’s my expectation and direction that ... individuals will be arrested, they’ll be cited, and their actions will be caused to be ceased,” Moore said. “This going forward is a means of ensuring that the lines will stay open, that the vaccine sites will be unhindered.”
Commission President Eileen Decker welcomed the chief’s assurances, calling protesters’ attempts to block people from getting the vaccine “sad” and “tragic.”
“To interfere with people obtaining lifesaving vaccines is just beyond reprehensible,” Decker said.
She said people “certainly have a 1st Amendment right to express themselves,” but not to interfere with others’ medical care.
Anti-vaccine protesters could get a free-speech area to prevent them from blocking COVID-19 vaccine distribution.
Moore’s promises followed outrage from local officials who demanded that no incident like the one over the weekend be allowed to happen again.
After 40 to 60 demonstrators appeared Saturday on Stadium Way holding signs decrying masks and shouting baseless claims about the dangers of the vaccine, Los Angeles Fire Department officials closed the main entrance for about an hour.
Images of the closed gate spread rapidly. Some who were in the line waiting for a shot expressed frustration with how police had handled the situation. County officials expressed dismay at the thought that such an important public health effort — critical to a region of millions — could be hampered by a few dozen ill-informed demonstrators.
The protest left several city leaders infuriated, with some questioning why police didn’t do more to move the demonstrators out of the way.
Moore on Tuesday reiterated earlier assurances that vaccinations continued to be administered while the gates were closed and that people who had appointments were still able to get their shots. He said officers at the scene had acted appropriately in de-escalating the situation and eventually getting the protesters to move on.
Nonetheless, the gate closure gave the public the wrong and dangerous impression that the protesters had succeeded in halting vaccinations, which was “an image that I’m very dissatisfied with,” Moore said. “That imagery, in my view, did offer a chilling effect, or could have offered a chilling effect of intimidation or fright.”
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