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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLA2020 Racial Injustice Protests

Protestors rally against stay-at-home orders at LA City Hall amid pandemic

Alma Villanueva, a supporter of President Donald Trump, waves an American flag on top of a convertible circling around Civic Center. (Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

By Jintak Han

April 23, 2020 6:27 pm

Defying stay-at-home orders, scores of protesters drove to Los Angeles City Hall on Wednesday to demand the city reopen nonessential businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The protest is one of a series of “Operation Gridlock” rallies across the country, including a similar march at Huntington Beach on Friday, criticizing the stay-at-home orders’ effect on the economy.

The orders have closed thousands of nonessential businesses, pushing over 26 million Americans into unemployment. However, experts generally agree that stay-at-home orders are necessary for bringing the current pandemic under control, and governors have enacted orders of varying strictness in 42 states, keeping at least 316 million Americans home.

Los Angeles’ “safer at home” order is set to expire May 15 while the statewide order’s end date remains undecided. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday that stay-at-home orders are critical in containing the coronavirus and should not be reversed anytime soon.

Most protesters circled LA City Hall and Grand Park in their cars, honking their horns and waving American flags, while some participated on foot. Many did not wear masks – the event website left the decision to use masks to the participant.

LAPD temporarily closed some streets around Civic Center during the rally, but the protest did not cause significant traffic disruptions, said Colin Sweeney, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation.

LA resident Nick Sorokin joined on foot and held a sign criticizing LA Mayor Eric Garcetti. Sorokin said Garcetti’s “safer at home” order has done more harm than the coronavirus itself.

“We can’t have a straitjacket approach, sledgehammer approach to private jobs,” Sorokin said. “Our setting needs to follow in the footsteps of the best and brightest, which is the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), (National Institutes of Health), public security and all those guys who are around (President Donald) Trump. Instead (Garcetti) has his own vision and mission, which is not good.”

A cyclist raises his middle finger at the protesting drivers who claim stay-at-home orders are unconstitutional. (Jintak Han/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Demetrius Brown, a Skid Row resident who has campaigned for Garcetti, was walking by when he heard Sorokin speak. Brown debated with Sorokin and defended Garcetti’s administration.

“These people are trying to save lives, not cause more deaths,” Brown said. “Look at what they have done. They have been picking the homeless up off of Skid Row and placing them inside hotels, OK? Give credit where credit is due.”

Although the event organizers asked participants to restrict their signage topics to First Amendment rights and reopening California, some protesters brought hats, banners and signs supporting Trump, who has publicly denounced stay-at-home orders and urged his supporters to “liberate” states that have enacted them.

Carmen Guillermo, who participated in the rally, said she disagrees with the Trump supporters. She said there is no politics in asking to reopen the city.

“I see it as American people wanting to preserve their constitutional rights,” Guillermo said. “We understand that viruses do kill. Viruses are out there. We follow the recommendations of our government. But now, we find that the government’s recommendations (and) their models, they weren’t 100% accurate.”

The protest was first organized on Facebook, but the social media giant took down the event page and the organizer’s account less than a day before the protest. Online communities supporting Trump quickly promoted the protest after the takedown.

Facebook did not respond to requests for comment, but it has previously stated it will keep misinformation and hoaxes about the coronavirus off its platforms.

About a dozen members of the Revolution Club, an anti-fascist activist group, also held a counterprotest on foot to support the stay-at-home orders, briefly disrupting the line of cars circling LA City Hall. Lucha Bright, a member of the Revolution Club, said she viewed her group’s violation of the stay-at-home orders as necessary.

“Look at what this country is doing to the world,” Bright said. “They don’t care about the people in the world. And these people with these American flags demanding the right to their economy, they don’t care either. And their ignorance is going to get people killed.”

Garcetti said he is receptive to the complaints of Angelenos but refuses to let the protesters on either side sway his decision-making.

“We have to keep doing this based on the medical advice,” Garcetti said. “That doesn’t mean forever, and I appreciate everybody expressing their frustrations, but even if there’s some who are saying, ‘Open it up,’ I look also at that polling, locally and nationally. People do trust this. People are more scared about opening up too early than too late.”

A recent poll by the Associated Press found that an overwhelming majority of Americans favor stay-at-home orders and a quarter want to tighten restrictions even further.

LAPD Chief Michel Moore said one of the things the pandemic will be remembered for is how protests moved to the car.

“That’s keeping the public health in mind, both as an individual and the surrounding community,” Moore said. “We’re watching this very closely and we will continue to facilitate those types of car protests, those types of disturbances or those types of demonstrations.”

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Jintak Han | Senior staff photojournalist & news reporter
Jintak Han is a senior staff photojournalist and news reporter. He photographs anything that catches his eye and writes for the City & Crime beat. He previously served as the 2016-2017 Assistant Photo editor.
Jintak Han is a senior staff photojournalist and news reporter. He photographs anything that catches his eye and writes for the City & Crime beat. He previously served as the 2016-2017 Assistant Photo editor.
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