Hundreds gather in Santa Monica to protest against proposed vaccine mandates
Hundreds of people, many carrying U.S. flags and holding signs that read “No jabs for jobs” and “Stop the medical tyranny,” gathered near the Santa Monica Pier on Sunday to push back against proposed COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
Held in a park off a busy stretch of Ocean Avenue, the demonstration — billed as a “worldwide rally for freedom” — appeared half political rally and half religious gathering. Organizers led the group in prayers, and attendees — mostly unmasked — milled about at booths to learn about recall attempts of several Democrats, including Gov. Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón.
A banner supporting Newsom’s recall was hung between palm trees. Some held banners supporting other candidates for the office, including conservative radio host Larry Elder. Booths also hawked merchandise celebrating former President Trump and the 2nd Amendment.
Despite concerns from city officials and law enforcement, the rally appeared to avoid the violence that erupted at a similar protest in downtown Los Angeles this month. No arrests or fights had been reported by Sunday afternoon.
A man who identified himself as Craig, declining to give his last name, said he showed up at the park to oppose vaccination requirements. He held several posters, including one criticizing the vaccine and another that equated abortion with murder.
“It’s obvious these vaccinations are a sign of segregation, and that’s a form of tyranny,” the Huntington Park resident said.
Several people who identified themselves as Los Angeles County employees said they were angered by the county’s decision to require them to show proof of vaccination against COVID-19 by Oct. 1.
Hugo Valdivia, a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, said he feels betrayed by the vaccination mandate. Valdivia worked during the height of the pandemic, contracted COVID-19 and now believes his natural antibodies will protect him.
“Wouldn’t you feel let down?” said Valdivia, who works out of a fire station in East Whittier. “Even if I didn’t get COVID-19, the government shouldn’t tell me what to do.”
Santa Clarita resident Sharon Kotas, who said she works for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services, also came to the rally to protest vaccination mandates.
“It should be my body, my choice,” said Kotas, 25, adding that she anticipated getting fired for not getting the shot.
Kotas, who held a sign that read “LA County workers against medical mandates,” said she doesn’t believe the vaccines provide effective protection against COVID-19.
Health experts have said the COVID-19 vaccines are safe, effective and save lives. Data released by Los Angeles County last week showed that hospitals are seeing a greater number of unvaccinated people who are younger and otherwise healthy.
Many motorists driving along Ocean Avenue honked in support as rally attendees waved Trump flags and signs that read “unmask our children.”
Other drivers made their disdain known.
A motorist shouted “moron!” at the crowd as he drove past. Another stuck his middle finger out of his car’s sunroof and shouted “idiots!”
Tourists visiting the pier Sunday afternoon stared as they walked past the rally.
Andrea Infante, who is visiting L.A. from Mexico, turned around on her scooter when she saw the crowd. The 29-year-old said that although she respected the protesters, she has different views about inoculations.
“It’s better to have the vaccine,” she said, adding that her family traveled to Texas to get the shot because it was easier than trying to get it in Mexico.
In the days leading up to the demonstration, Santa Monica police said they were staffing up in preparation for the possibility that violence could break out between the anti-vaccination group and counter-protesters who indicated to officials they planned to attend.
“We want people to know the minute they get into town that this isn’t going to be a free-for-all melee,” said Santa Monica Police Sgt. Erika Aklufi. “We’re really trying to push people toward a peaceful protest. We’re hoping for the best.”
Amid heightened concerns about potential violence, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday passed an emergency ordinance banning items including plastic pipes, baseball bats, aerosol sprays, glass bottles, chains longer than 20 inches, metal containers, shields, gas masks, helmets, body armor, bricks and rocks. Some of those items have been used as weapons at similar rallies across the country in recent years.
Signs listing the banned items were affixed to traffic lights across downtown Sunday.
Protests over vaccinations and other regulations aimed at stemming the spread of COVID-19 have been widespread through the pandemic, at times leading to brawls among attendees. A man was stabbed and a reporter was assaulted during a melee at an anti-vaccination rally in downtown Los Angeles this month.
Anti-mask demonstrators have also converged near the Huntington Beach Pier in recent months.
In January, a group of anti-vaccine protesters disrupted operations at a mass COVID-19 vaccination center at Dodger Stadium, prompting some officials to call for increased security at testing and vaccination sites.
There is no blanket rule mandating that people get vaccinated in California, but some cities have or are considering requiring proof of vaccination to enter certain businesses. New York City became the first major city to do so this month, followed by San Francisco and New Orleans.
The Los Angeles City Council this month voted to direct city attorneys to draft a law that would require people to have at least one dose of a vaccine to visit indoor restaurants, bars, gyms, shops and movie theaters. The plan has not been finalized, and the full City Council still must approve the proposed law.
L.A. County officials are also considering instituting their own public vaccine verification rules. Last month, the county reimposed a rule requiring people to wear masks in indoor public spaces amid a surge in new coronavirus infections fueled by the highly transmissible Delta variant.
Among the lineup of conservative speakers at Sunday’s rally was David Bramante, who is running in the recall election. Bramante recently created a satirical site called the Anonymous Unvaccinated Reporting System, which asked people to report those who are unvaccinated.
“My goal with the site is to point out how dangerously close we are as society to having a company like AURS exist; a world where friends, family and neighbors are reporting each other to a third-party website and local authorities,” he wrote on his website.
Tony Moon, better known as the Roof Korean on Twitter, was also expected to speak, according to a flier advertising the event.
Moon, who has acknowledged being in Washington on the day of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol and was also present at violent clashes outside the Wi Spa in Westlake, spoke at a protest in Los Angeles that turned violent this month.
Moon has defended his actions on Twitter, accusing counter-protesters of stoking the violence and sharing right-wing posts praising “patriots” for confronting “antifa.”
Times staff writer James Queally contributed to this report.
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