City workers storm Brooklyn Bridge protesting vaccine mandate

The group marched across the Brooklyn Bridge to City Hall on Monday afternoon in opposition to New York City’s vaccine mandate for municipal employees. 

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Ryan Kawahara

New York City’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers led to a protest march on Monday. Paramedics, police officers, firefighters and other municipal workers voiced their opposition to the mandate through signs, speeches and chants. (Staff Photo by Ryan Kawahara)

By Rachel Cohen, Rachel Fadem, and Ryan Kawahara

Thousands of protesters marched across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan on Monday afternoon to oppose New York City’s vaccine mandate for its municipal workers. 

The group first gathered at 11:30 a.m. at 9 MetroTech Plaza — located near NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering campus — and headed down Flatbush Avenue through downtown Brooklyn. Police shut down the Manhattan-bound lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge as employees of the New York City Police Department, New York City Fire Department and other city departments marched across the bridge towards City Hall.

The vaccine mandate, which goes into effect on Nov. 1, requires the municipal workforce to receive at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine or risk being placed on unpaid leave. Around 50,000 of over 160,000 city workers have yet to be vaccinated.

Mo Olivier — a member of NY Teachers For Choice, an organization protesting the vaccine mandate in schools — said he believes that receiving a vaccine should be an individual choice. Teachers and school staff members organized a similar protest earlier this month.

“I choose not to get vaccinated because it’s my personal religious belief that I do not put unclean things in my body,” Olivier said. “I’m not saying don’t take a vaccination.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have deemed the vaccines safe and found them effective at reducing the risk of COVID-19.

Olivier said that although he has faced issues with the NYPD in the past, he still decided to attend the march in support of the city employees, including police, who oppose the mandate.

“This is an opportunity to build bridges that have never been built before between the NYPD, the fire department and even the Black community,” he said. “I’m out here marching for all of my brothers and sisters from NYPD, FDNY, Sanitation — whoever you are.”

Speakers at the protest claimed that the mandate would leave New Yorkers without emergency care, since many paramedics, police officers and firefighters are refusing to get vaccinated.

“If this vaccine mandate stands, we are not allowed to work,” one of the speakers said. “Every New Yorker will be impacted. The inability of the city to provide adequate emergency services to the public will be immediate and extremely consequential.”

As the protesters passed NYU’s Brooklyn campus, they were confronted by a smaller group who mocked them. The group held up signs saying “my penis is small” and “my choice to die.”

Monday’s demonstration came only one day after 100 people clashed with security outside of the Barclays Center in support of Brooklyn Nets player Kyrie Irving, who is unable to play in home games because he refuses to receive at least one COVID-19 shot to comply with the city’s indoor vaccine mandate.

New York City has seen several other protests and lawsuits from K-12 educators and the largest city police union after becoming the first U.S. city to impose a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for its employees. Courts have upheld the legality of vaccine mandates in New York state and across the country.

Sofia Wheeler contributed reporting.

Contact Rachel Cohen, Rachel Fadem and Ryan Kawahara at [email protected]