As customers enjoyed their Saturday afternoon at Staten Island Mall and prepared to enjoy their meals, a raucous, maskless crowd of dozens opposing New York City’s indoor vaccination mandate stormed into the mall while chanting, “U-S-A!”
Their goal: to eat at the food court without showing proof of vaccination.
“Everybody go get food and eat. That is what we’re here to do!” one woman said to the group, according to a video from freelance journalist Oliya Scootercaster. “We’re going to meet over there and go into the food court area and sit our butts down and stay as long as we like!”
Videos posted to social media show the protesters marching into Staten Island Mall in defiance of the city’s indoor dining vaccination mandate. Although people are not required to show proof of vaccination or wear masks inside the mall, they do need to show proof of immunization to eat at the food court. Some chanted, “My body, my choice,” while others recited the Pledge of Allegiance.
“We shouldn’t be carrying papers or showing papers because we live in America and we are the land of the free,” one demonstrator said to the group, according to video.
Brookfield Properties, the operator of the Staten Island Mall, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday.
The anti-mandate demonstration at the mall food court is the latest public instance of resistance from those opposing vaccine and mask mandates, even as the country is averaging more than 119,000 new coronavirus cases a day. Vaccine mandates are a hot-button topic across the country as government officials and public health experts continue to grapple with hesitancy among the millions who remain unvaccinated. The battle over vaccine and mask mandates has been fraught nationwide, playing out in schools, restaurants, airplanes and other public spaces each day.
The scene in Staten Island – a borough largely sympathetic to former president Donald Trump – shed light on some of the opposition to New York City’s mandate that requires proof of at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine for various indoor activities for workers and customers, including indoor dining and gyms.
New York City was the first in the United States to enforce this mandate Sept. 13, as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to get more residents vaccinated at a time when the highly transmissible delta variant has led to a surge in infections nationwide.
De Blasio, D, has also asked city workers to get immunized or tested weekly, and has even offered $100 to incentivize people to get the shots.
“If you want to participate in our society fully, you’ve got to get vaccinated,” he said at a news conference in August. “It’s time.”
Other cities such as San Francisco have followed suit.
Scootercaster, who was at the scene, wrote on Twitter that the dozens who entered Staten Island Mall were not asked to show vaccination cards, despite a sign at the entrance stating that it is required.
Clips posted to Twitter show demonstrators expressing support for Trump and using expletives to denounce President Joe Biden.
A male protester wielding a large American flag said he opposed mask mandates for children in schools and vaccine requirements, and falsely claimed that the vaccines have not been tested. Health agencies have repeatedly said the vaccines have been thoroughly tested, and the Food and Drug Administration gave full approval to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month.
“I don’t like experiments,” he said.
Vaccine mandates have also caused political division across party lines in New York state, which was once the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic last year. Although former governor Andrew M. Cuomo and de Blasio pushed for strict coronavirus restrictions, Republican politicians in the state have fiercely opposed them. Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., whose district includes Staten Island, has called the city’s vaccination policy an “overreach” and argued that it will burden businesses that are already struggling to recover from financial losses from last year.
She was among other Staten Island elected officials who announced last month their plan to sue New York City to try to block the vaccine mandate, claiming it infringes on citizens’ rights.
The incident Saturday is not the first time residents and businesses have opposed coronavirus restrictions in Staten Island. In December, hundreds of mostly maskless demonstrators stood outside a bar to oppose the state’s coronavirus guidelines and to show their support for the tavern, which had been shut down for defying those guidelines.
“The people have rights!” one protester yelled, according to the New York Daily News. “Open the door, I’m thirsty!”