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Posts misrepresent after-hours arrests at New York museum

January 21, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: New York City police on Wednesday arrested several people, including a 9-year-old girl, for failing to present proof of COVID-19 vaccination at the American Museum of Natural History.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. Six protesters who were initially denied entry into the museum for refusing to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination were arrested for trespassing at the museum after it had closed, NYPD spokesman Al Baker told The Associated Press. Officers did not charge the child with a crime, Baker said.

THE FACTS: Videos of police escorting protesters and a child out of a New York City museum on Wednesday have circulated widely on social media with the false claim that they show the individuals getting arrested because they didn’t show COVID-19 vaccine cards.

“This Is America: NYPD Arrests 9-Year-Old Girl & Five Others For Entering Museum of Natural History Without Vax Passport,” one false headline read.

“How dare they go to a museum and not show their papers when asked,” a Facebook user wrote sarcastically alongside a link to the video.

Conspiracy-promoting websites and tabloids also shared videos of the protesters.

A New York-based group whose members have staged other protests against vaccine requirements referred to the museum protesters as their “FREEDOM FIGHTERS” in a Facebook post Wednesday night.

In fact, the protesters weren’t arrested for failing to produce a vaccine card, and the child in the videos was not arrested, according to Anne Canty, senior vice president for communications at the museum.

The protesters were initially denied entry to the museum because they forcibly entered the building “while failing to provide proof of vaccination as required by NYC regulations and refusing to wear masks,” Canty said in a statement.

They remained inside the museum lobby and refused to leave when the museum closed for the day at 5:30 p.m. That’s when museum officials called the police, Baker said.

Police officers warned the protesters that they were trespassing and that enforcement action would be taken if they didn’t leave, Baker said. The adults refused and museum officials agreed to press charges. Six protesters aged 36 to 43 were escorted to a police station, issued summonses for trespassing and released by about 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, two female officers cared for the child who was with the protesters, escorting her to the police station in a separate car and giving her cookies and a beverage, Baker said.

“Any suggestion that the girl was detained or had enforcement action taken against her couldn’t be further from the truth,” Baker said. “The officers had an obligation to care for her, which they did until the mother qualified for her summons for trespassing.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.