Dramatic Reversal: Los Angeles Mayor Now Wants To Ban Masks at Protests

By: Alex Trent | Published: Jun 26, 2024

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass announced this week that city officials are looking into the possibility of banning the wearing of masks at protests and demonstrations.

This decision was in response to a protest that made international headlines at a Los Angeles synagogue this past weekend. If implemented, this ban would be a dramatic reversal of public policy that once recommended that people wear masks at demonstrations to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Synagogue Protest

A protest over the weekend in LA turned violent after demonstrators blocked access to congregants trying to enter a synagogue. This stand-off resulted in violent skirmishes, requiring the intervention of police to restore the peace.

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LA Mayor Karen Bass speaks at a podium.

Source: Mario Tama/Getty Images

“[Sunday’s] violence in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood was abhorrent, and blocking access to a place of worship is unacceptable,” said Mayor Bass. “I want to be clear that Los Angeles will not be a harbor for antisemitism and violence. Those responsible for either will be found and held accountable.”

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International Attention

The story was quickly picked up and spread through the news cycle, being seen around the world. The attention prompted US President Joe Biden to issue a strong condemnation on X.

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President Joe Biden speaking at a public event, gesturing with his hand, with a blurred background

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“I’m appalled by the scenes outside of Adas Torah synagogue in Los Angeles,” Biden said. “Americans have a right to peaceful protest. But blocking access to a house of worship – and engaging in violence – is never acceptable.”

Wearing Masks

Critics of the protestors think that the wearing of masks make it easier to hide their identities and avoid being held accountable for violent or illegal acts.

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During Sunday’s protest, there were many demonstrators who were wearing masks, which prompted the decision by city officials to examine the legality of mask-wearing because of the difficulty involved in identifying protest attendees.

Protecting the Community

There have not been any formal proposals in Los Angeles to ban masks so far, and such a move would raise legal questions. However, the mayor’s idea has support as officials investigate a ban’s legality.

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A person wears a mask to protect against the pandemic.

Source: Usman Yousaf/Usnplash

“Just as Mayor Bass said, we need to look at every available legal tool, as the city attorney looks at existing anti-masking laws in the state of California,” said Jefferey Abraham, Los Angeles regional director of the ADL who stood beside Mayor Bass at the announcement.

Previous Stance

The impetus to now ban masks is a drastic reversal of previous policy considerations in Los Angeles. In 2020, one Los Angeles official made comments that anyone not wearing a mask to stop the spread of COVID-19 was guilty of “reckless endangerment.” Previously, city officials had considered issuing citations for anyone caught not wearing a mask in public.

A close-up of many white and blue face masks.

Source: Noah/Unsplash

“I truly can’t fathom the people who are politicizing mask wearing — literally for some people, a choice that will (mean) life and death,” said Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz at the time. “It seems like we should start to consider it reckless endangerment of others to not wear a mask.”

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Important For Protests

Supporters of protests think that the ability to wear masks is essential to protect the rights of those to speak up in public without fearing retaliation.

Selective focus photography of a woman wearing a black cold-shoulder shirt using a megaphone during daytime

Unsplash user Clem Onojeghuo

“At a time when both public and private actors are increasingly turning to invasive surveillance technologies to identify protesters, mask-wearing is an important way for us to safeguard our right to speak out on issues of public concern,” said senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union Jay Stanley in May.

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COVID Hypocrisy

Some have pointed out a double standard around the desire to ban masks while COVID-19 in Los Angeles has shown recent signs of surging.

A person looks up information on COVID-19 on his phone.

Source: Brian McGowan/Unsplash

In June, the Los Angeles Times reported that viral levels of COVID in California’s wastewater have crossed into a point of “high activity.” In the week that ended on June 16, cases had risen and reportedly at least 406 people have died from COVID-19 in Los Angeles County so far this year.

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Public Confidence

Online commenters reacting to the announcement by the Mayor felt like the dramatic swing from recommending masks to banning them undermines the public’s trust in future mask recommendations.

An aerial view of a hazy sky seen over Los Angeles, California.

Source: Andreas Strandman/Unsplash

“Honestly this swing to trying to ban masks makes these politicians look like clowns and only makes it even less likely people take future mask recommendations seriously,” said one Reddit user.

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Banning Masks

Some were confused about how a mask ban could be done if someone had a medical issue that necessitated wearing one in public.

A man in a dark t-shirt appears distressed, pressing his hands against his temples, suggesting a severe headache or frustration. He is wearing a camouflage pattern face mask, which covers his nose and mouth

Source: Usman Yousaf/Unsplash

“Why would you ban a mask? I can have it for pollen, or for smoke, or dust particles, or even for the flu virus. Besides, it also reduces the chance of getting Covid and long Covid,” one Reddit user said.

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Reverse Psychology

Others online jokingly suggested that this ploy to ban masks as COVID concerns are increasing might be a form of reverse psychology to make people wear masks again.

A hand reaches to grab the spine of a book on a bookshelf.

Source: Guzel Maskutova/Unsplash

“You’re telling me I can’t wear a mask? Well f*ck you. I’m going to wear a mask because it’s my freedom. Is this reverse psychology or some sh*t? Lmao,” said a Reddit user.

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Anti-Mask Sentiment

Los Angeles is not the only area mulling over what legal options they have to ban masks in public. In June, New York Governor Kathy Hochul also had harsh words for people wearing masks on public transit.

A woman wearing a mask.

Source: Ketut Subiyanto/Unsplash

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Hochul said on the topic of considering a ban on masks. “On a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

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