California council member compares her refusal to wear mask to Rosa Parks's civil rights fight

A city official in Southern California is facing criticism after she compared her refusal to wear a mask during the coronavirus pandemic with Rosa Parks’s historic fight against racial segregation.

Jessica Alexander, a member of the Temecula City Council, made the remarks last week during a council meeting in response to debate about how long the body should continue hosting virtual meetings in compliance with state COVID-19 safety measures, The Press-Enterprise reported on Friday.

Alexander pointed to the 1955 arrest of Parks, a Black woman who became a civil rights icon after she refused to give up her Montgomery, Ala., bus seat for a white man.

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“Look at Rosa Parks … She finally took a stand and moved to the front, because she knew that that wasn’t lawful,” she said, according to video obtained by the outlet. "It wasn’t true, so she took a stand. At what point in time do we?"

“I’m getting pushed to the back of the bus,” Alexander continued. “This is what I’m telling you I feel like.”

The former New York Police Department officer and Marine Corps veteran went on say that she “cannot” and “will not” wear a face covering during the pandemic.

“So it’s not that I want to be disrespectful,” she said. "But the fact of the matter is, when is enough enough?”

Temecula, located about an hour north of San Diego, has roughly 114,000 residents. The city has had 7,455 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 78 deaths, according to data from the Riverside County Health Department. 

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The council ultimately voted 4-1, with Alexander voting "no," to continue hosting virtual public meetings through June.

Her comments sparked immediate backlash from local civil rights leaders.

Corey Jackson, the political action chair for the Riverside County chapter of the NAACP, told The Press-Enterprise in a statement that Alexander’s comments show that “unfortunately, people don’t understand their history and she clearly missed the whole point about Rosa Parks and twisted it for her own political reasons.”

“Not being treated as a human being or [being treated as] a second-class citizen is totally different from a universal measure to protect lives,” Jackson said.

Tisa Rodriguez, chairwoman of the Riverside County Democratic Party, said it was “unconscionable” that an elected member of the city council would “malign their memories in such a self-serving way.”

Alexander, who was elected in November to represent the council’s District 2 seat, did not immediately respond to The Hill’s request for comment.

Temecula has previously been rocked with controversy regarding other officials making racially insensitive comments, The Press-Enterprise reported.

In June, then-Mayor James “Stew” Stewart resigned after he wrote in an email that he didn’t “believe there’s ever been a good person of color killed by a police officer.”

He claimed at the time that he dictates messages because he has dyslexia and the word “good” was accidentally added. Stewart apologized and ran for city council again, winning his election in November to represent the city’s District 4 seat.