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Maskless protesters upend Boston City Council meeting, sending councilors online instead

Councilors had paused the meeting earlier due to interruptions of protestors against the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for city employees.

City Council President Ed Flynn talking to Boston residents who refused to wear a mask at the City Council meeting, forcing the second half of the meeting to ajourn and reconvene on Zoom. Matthew J Lee/Globe staff
Vaccine mandate

Business as usual at Boston City Hall was briefly upended twice during a City Council meeting on Wednesday, as protesters in the council chamber interrupted lawmakers and refused to wear face coverings in defiance of COVID-19 protocols.

The latter incident ultimately prompted councilors to finish their agenda virtually.

The outbursts are the latest to descend on City Hall over Mayor Michelle Wu’s mandate that all city employees be vaccinated against COVID or else be put on unpaid leave.

In recent weeks, crowds have gathered and marched to disrupt everything from press conferences to the council’s swearing-in ceremony in attempts to push Wu from letting the mandate take hold on Jan. 30. Protesters have also taken chants to Wu’s neighborhood and outside her house.

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Protestors on Wednesday, from the wings of the meeting hall, piped up as the council voted to accept $5 million in federal coronavirus relief funding under the American Rescue Plan Act passed last year.

The latest round of funds through the city’s Small Business Relief Fund will assist 300 local businesses that have suffered financial hardship due to the pandemic, an order from Wu reads. The relief fund has so far issued over $28.6 million in grants to more than 5,600 businesses since April 2020.

Protesters, in a video posted to Twitter posted by GBH reporter Saraya Wintersmith, could be heard insisting to lawmakers that “There is no emergency” and “The emergency is over.”

One man urged council president Ed Flynn to take action and call an emergency meeting.

“Don’t run away sir,” the protester said. “Do your job.”

The initial outbursts prompted Flynn to call a recess.

According to Sean Philip Cotter, of The Boston Herald, Flynn told the protesters he and councilor and state Sen. Lydia Edwards would speak to the group for 20 minutes after the meeting if they let lawmakers get on with their business.

The crowd appeared to accept the invitation, Cotter wrote in a tweet.

But Flynn brought the meeting to another recess about an hour later after asking maskless attendees to cover their faces, citing rules that visitors in City Hall wear masks.

According to Wintersmith, Flynn re-approached the group and explained that he was “trying to be accommodating,” but protesters rejected his offer to meet outside after the meeting.

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Some of the demonstrators said they could not wear masks and pointed out a few of the councilors did not wear face coverings during the meeting, Cotter wrote in a tweet. Police ultimately escorted them out of the chamber.

With that, councilors moved the meeting to Zoom to discuss the remainder of the agenda.

Flynn did not address the situation when the meeting resumed.

Wednesday’s agenda was rather mundane.

The meeting was the first substantial one since councilors began their new terms earlier this month. Much of the list before lawmakers contained re-filed proposals that councilors were unable to pass or address in the previous term.

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