LOWER MANHATTAN — So many people showed up for a protest march across the Brooklyn Bridge against the city’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate that for the better part of an hour, the bridge was a sea of people as far as the eye could see.
Even though the number of people who turned out is dwarfed by the more than 6 million New York City residents who’ve been vaccinated, according to city records, the significant turnout at Monday’s protest and rally indicated that pushback against the mandate could be fierce, particularly among police officers and firefighters.
All of the thousands of demonstrators said they’re against the mandate. It will require any city worker who’s not vaccinated on Monday be placed on unpaid leave.
They gathered outside FDNY headquarters at MetroTech in Brooklyn around 11:00 a.m., and then started heading across the bridge 40 minutes later.
There were so many people that they shut down the Manhattan-bound side of the bridge for nearly an hour.
As they crossed, different protesters talked about why they were there.
Not all of the demonstrators were in the police or fire tanks.
Nathaniel Fernandez, who helped to carry a large American flag across the bridge, said that he works in banking, but felt he had to come to the protest in support of firefighters and cops.
“I’m standing for my freedoms,” he said, “and I’m standing for everyone else.”
A woman who did not give her name said that her reason for being there was simple.
“Freedom over fear,” she said. “The United States of America gives us inalienable rights that can never be taken away from us.”
The march across the bridge to City Hall was the latest in a series of protests indicating strong opposition to the mayor’s order. It requires a vaccination by the end of the workday on Friday, or no paycheck come Monday.
On Sunday of this week, Andrew Ansbro, the president of the Uniformed Firefighters’ Association, the firefighters’ union, urged unvaccinated members to not stay at home next Monday, when the mandate kicks in.
“I will ask all of you to go to work,” he said at a rally in Staten Island. “Let the mayor send you home. What happens next will be on him.”
For his part, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that there are enough vaccinated city workers to get all work done safely and efficiently.
But he didn’t directly respond to the UFA president’s directive.
Instead, the mayor said that this whole situation is likely to go the way of previous mandates.
“A very powerful example is the Department of Education,” de Blasio told PIX11 News, in response to a question about firefighters being sent home.
“A couple of weeks ago,” the mayor continued, “we had a deadline, and since then, 3,500 employees of the Department of Education got vaccinated who missed that original deadline. I think you’re gonna see some of that” with firefighters, he said.
Also on Monday, the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the union representing rank and file NYPD officers filed a lawsuit against the mandate, in Supreme Court in Staten Island.
There have been similar legal actions filed against past COVID mandates from the city. In every case, the city has eventually won.