Unmasked protesters opposing San Jose’s proof of COVID-19 vaccination mandate for large events at city-owned facilities forced the suspension of council proceedings for nearly an hour.
More than 100 people—many unmasked and carrying signs with anti-vaccination messages—interrupted the City Council’s opening invocation on Tuesday, given by a Buddhist monk. A city official told San José Spotlight he heard one of the protesters ask the monk if he was Chinese.
Mayor Sam Liccardo demanded protesters be quiet as they shouted over him.
“We have a requirement that everyone here should be masked,” Liccardo said, adding that anyone not wearing a mask would be asked to leave.
Protesters issued a chorus of boos as he banged his gavel several times.
“We’re not going to have any outbursts,” Liccardo interjected. “Anyone who is speaking out of turn will also be asked to leave… This is not the time.”
Liccardo then asked a group of people standing in the back of the council chambers to put on their masks and said the meeting would not proceed until everyone did so. The meeting then abruptly went to recess for nearly an hour and has since resumed.
Protesters yelled at police as officers asked them to leave. A San Jose Police Department spokesperson told San José Spotlight that officers made no arrests.
San Jose Councilmember Maya Esparza, who hosted the invocation, issued a statement late Tuesday condemning what she called “racist, xenophobic remarks” toward Ven. Thich Phap Luu, abbot of the Chua Di Lac Buddhist temple who provided an invocation at the start of the meeting.
“I was shocked and horrified at these hateful comments, and I condemn them as strongly as I can,” she wrote.
When the council returned from the recess, Liccardo had some stern words for the protesters.
“Anyone who wants to come in to speak will be required to wear a mask, as everyone who is employed at City Hall is required,” he said. “We will ensure that there are no disruptions because anyone who is disrupting the meeting obviously is preventing us from hearing members of the public and each other.”
Esparza renewed her call for unity amid the divisive discussion over face masks.
“Words like segregation, comparisons to Jim Crow and Nazi Germany are offensive and completely miss the point that lessons that history have taught us,” she said. “More than that, these comparisons are dangerous. This is the type of public discourse that led to an increase in hate crimes, particularly in our Asian community. Today we witnessed disrespect to a local religious leader in our community. Something that saddens me, but also angers me. This is not San Jose. We are better than that.”
The council unanimously approved the vaccination mandate later in the day.