A mother who took her son to an Applebees in the Queens Mall this week was seen on a viral video as police came into the restaurant and forced the unvaccinated to leave under penalty of arrest. The video went viral, and Stephanie Edmonds' son could be seen crying and clinging to her as police told patrons and protestors that if they could not show their vaccine cards they would have to leave.
Edmonds, a 10th grade global history teacher in New York City who is currently on unpaid leave due to her refusal to get vaccinated, spoke to The Post Millennial about vaccine mandates, parental rights, and her refusal to leave New York.
New York City mandates that everyone over the age of 5 be vaccinated and show proof of vaccination to enter restaurants, museums, movies, theatres, sporting events, and most venues in public.
At five-years-old, her son is eligible to be vaccinated, but Edmonds has not seen the need to do so given the extremely low risk of COVID-19 for children in that age group. As to her own vaccination status, she cites religious exemptions as to why she has not undergone the coronavirus jab herself.
Edmonds took part in the protest at Applebees at the Queens Mall after dining, without incident, at a nearby Shake Shack with her five-year-old son.
There was a police presence at the Shake Shack, but it wasn't until they moved to Applebees that the enforcement began. The employees at Applebees refused to seat their party after their refusal to show their vaccine cards, so they took seats anyway in the dining room.
"They wouldn't let us order," Edmonds said. "They said no, you have to show your vaccine card. And then they basically just ignored us." The kids, she said, were seated way at the end of the group, while protestors took other seats and even sat at the bar. Then the police came in.
They told the party that if they weren't going to order, they would have to leave, and that if they didn't have a vaccine card, they couldn't order at all. "If you don't have the card you're gonna have to leave," an officer can be heard to say in the video as Edmonds' little boy covers his face with his hands.
Edmonds' friend, also a teacher currently on unpaid leave, told officer that they were trying to order but that the employees wouldn't take their order.
"The police said they're not enforcing the mandate," Edmonds said, "what they say is they're enforcing trespassing. They talk about 'oh, it's a private business,' and that's true, but there's also public accommodations. So if you're a private business, that's open to the public, you have to offer public accommodations to people regardless of the their protected class status, which includes religious and medical."
"They always avoid that," she said. "They're just like, well, they've asked you to leave and you need to go.
Edmonds began to protest against restrictions over a year ago, when she worked hard to get schools to fully reopen. It was when New York City had a threshold of 3 percent community transmission as a bar to close schools. Edmonds began to work with other advocates who wanted to get schools open, and from there she got plugged into the freedom movement. As a teacher, her concern with getting tested at schools had to do with the uncertainty as to what would happen to her medical samples after the tests were complete. She and like-minded colleagues could not get a commitment from the United Federation of Teachers that the samples would be destroyed.
"The union wasn't fighting for us," she said.
Edmonds also takes issue with the fact that these restrictions were mandated through an executive order from Mayor Bill de Blasio's office, and not through normal legislative channels.
"None of this has gone through our representatives," she said, "Like all COVID policy. I don't I don't think there's any COVID policy, or very little COVID policy, anywhere in any of the 50 states that's gone through the legislature. It's all done through executive orders."
This, she said, "is where democracy begins to break down. Because the whole point is that everybody can have a representative in the conversation, but they are kind of systematically cutting out a certain population from this discussion. They have a number of ways to do it label you as crazy right wing conspiracy theorist or just tell you that you have an unpopular opinion and, you know, you'll you just have to get with the rest of the society."
"When they start cutting off your economic ability to make money, when they start cutting off your ability to move freely, then I literally cannot participate," she said.
Edmonds cites her deep love of history as guiding her toward this understanding of why Americans, and New Yorkers specifically, need to stand up and defend their rights. "In the 1950s and 60s in the civil rights era, it made sense for them to protest right they because they didn't have access to the democratic means of participating in society, or the economic ones. And we're not obviously as far down the line from that, like we don't have 350 some odd years that they had at that time of oppression. But that doesn't mean that it's not an echo of the same issue."
"We want to say hey, this is kind of like that thing that happened in the past. So maybe we should be a little bit cautious. Maybe we should think about this a little bit more deeply. That's why I came to teach history. Because I believe that to in order to make a better future you have to know your past," Edmonds said.
There have been those critical of the protests, those who say that protestors are disrupting the livelihoods of restauranteurs who have no choice but to comply with the mandates. Others say that police enforcers are just doing their job, as well. But Edmonds has a different take.
"We definitely do support the businesses that are supporting us," Edmonds said. "We have businesses that we support. And if you see that the places that we target, they aren't mom and pop shops. We're not trying to hurt regular people just trying to feed the family. We are targeting the large chain corporations."
As to the police, she shares the duty of having been a public servant. "For a long time," she said, "I was just doing my job as a teacher and I looked the other way plenty of times when I saw bad parts of the system. But protesting is kind of what we have to do so we can maintain the good. There's got to be a line, right? There's got to be a line where you say, 'I can't just do my job anymore."
"Everybody has that choice, whether you work at the restaurant, whether you're a police officer, whoever you are, everybody has the choice about what they're willing to enforce what they're willing to accept as their job."
The mandates, recently being enforced under the guise of trespassing by the NYPD, have been previously up to civilian enforcement. When entering most restaurants in New York, patrons are asked for their vaccine cards, as well as for their identification. And the people who ask them are just the random people who work there.
"It's not like the government out here enforcing this, they're counting on regular people to demonize and terrorize their neighbors into into submission and compliance," Edmonds said.
The mandates and other heavy restrictions on life in New York have spurred many people to leave the city, but for Edmonds, this is not only her home, but the place where she's decided to take a stand.
"This is such a fundamental blow to liberty," Edmonds said. "If New York City falls everywhere, is in danger. You can't just run and hide from this. I think that if we run we're just delaying the inevitable and so we have to stand up and fight. People from other states need to stand up and fight and support us. Because if not, then they're going to be trying to go to the restaurant one day with their 5-year-old or their 10-year-olds, and they're not going to be able to do it."