New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says he is allowing protestors to violate the pandemic shutdown due to “400 years of American racism.”
De Blasio’s comment came in response to a Hamodia reporter’s questioning him at a press conference Tuesday as to why the protestors may violate the ban on gatherings, even while he is enforcing the closure of retail stores and a ban on religious services over 10 people.
“When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services,” said the mayor. “This is something that’s not about which side of the spectrum you’re on. It’s about a deep, deep American crisis. We have never seen anything quite like what we’ve seen in the last few days. This is a powerful, painful historical moment.”
The mayor’s comments were condemned by those who accused him of failing to attach proper significance to religious services, and of giving protesters rights that other New Yorkers don’t have during the pandemic.
“You’re 100% wrong,” Assembylman Simcha Eichenstein tweeted at de Blasio. “Sure, protesters have the right under the first amendment to march against racism, which needs to be confronted head on in this country, but the same first amendment guarantees religious people the right to practice their faith.”
Community activist Chaskel Bennett tweeted, “I condemn the unjust murder of George Floyd & it deserves/demands peaceful protest. It’s also important to know that the right to ‘peaceably assemble’ & ‘religious freedom’ are protected equally by the very same First Amendment.”
In a conversation with Hamodia on Tuesday, Bennett also noted that law-enforcement officers had forced families to leave a Williamsburg park due to the pandemic, even while people were allowed to protest in nearby neighborhoods.
“The thousands of people protesting are supported by the mayor,” said Bennett. “If that is permitted and encouraged, where’s the lockdown? In parks and businesses? Selective enforcement is not a fair public policy; it’s harassment.”
Below is the full text of the mayor’s exchange with the Hamodia reporter:
Question: While you’ve recommended that protesters stay home, for others in the city, you’ve enforced gathering bans, not recommendations.
The retail store owner who has been closed for two months and is experiencing financial ruin has been banned from opening his store. People for whom attending houses of worship are a regular part of life been have banned from doing so with more than 10 people.
Now, you’ve expressed solidarity with this particular protest cause. Is that why it’s been given dispensation to disregard all pandemic guidelines?
I know you were asked about this yesterday. And you said there’s such pain and anger, and [banning protests may be construed as] not hearing their concerns. What about the retail store owner facing imminent financial ruin, or the religious person who can’t attend a house of worship – what about their pain and anger?
So, Mr. Mayor are we in a pandemic or not? And do we have one set of rules for protesters and another for everyone else?
Answer: Thank you. You’re a smart guy asking a smart question but I’m going to tell you that anyone who thinks there’s different rules for different people, again, is not trying very hard to see the reality. And I’m just not going to hold back. If you guys want to really work hard to miss the reality, be my guest. But every day New Yorkers can see what’s going on. We’re in the middle of a national crisis, a deep-seated national crisis. There’s no comparison. I’m sorry, I do feel for the store owners, I really do. I know a lot of the store owners, and I’m so happy that on Monday, we’re going to start to open up – the minute we thought we could give relief. I want to tell you in the middle of all this, we’re talking about the pandemic. I haven’t been the last days talking about our thresholds because there’s been so much else going on. Let me take a moment to answer your question in part with this: Three indicator thresholds we do every day – the daily number of people admitted to hospitals for suspected COVID-19, all of New York City, the latest report, 40 patients. 40 out of well over 8 million people. Forty. Below our threshold of 200. The daily number of people in our public hospital ICU’s, that threshold is 375; today it’s 354 people. The percentage of people who tested positive for COVID-19. As more and more testing is being expanded literally every day in this city: 4%, lowest we’ve ever seen. 4%. So, Reuvain, I want to make clear: Before Thursday, which was not that long ago, my friend, we were doing one thing, one thing only: fighting back this disease, for everyone’s benefit. And I want to say: state and city, governor and I, have been totally united, that we had to have a strict, strong approach to get to these numbers. Didn’t happen by accident. So you could say, Oh, couldn’t we have done stores, and I appreciate how painful it’s been for people to be missing religious observance, but I’ll tell you the religious leaders of this city have stood as one and said we are not going to do things prematurely, that will endanger lives.
So these facts [the improved COVID-19 numbers] speak for themselves. We stood there together, we held the line, we beat back this disease. These last days, I’m very worried about any resurgence that might come from these protests. I absolutely am. I wish, and I honestly believe it, I think people have made their point, change is coming, I wish people would now realize in the name of the health of all New Yorkers, it’s time to go back, stay home, let’s turn this page. And the folks who are the criminals and the folks who are doing the violence need to be dealt with.
But this is other piece of the equation: When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism, I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services. This is something that’s not about which side of the spectrum you’re on. It’s about a deep, deep American crisis. We have never seen anything quite like what we’ve seen in the last few days. This is a powerful, painful historical moment.
So, no, I have eyes to see. We’re not going to treat it like it’s just any other day. We’re not going to treat it like, why are people outside the bars and not notice that all of America is grappling simultaneously with a horrible crisis. Sorry guys, there’s a world outside New York City.
So, we’re dealing with this. And I want to turn the page as quickly as possible. But we’re not going to ignore the reality.
Monday, we restart. And that relief is coming for those small business owners very quickly. On Monday. They can do curbside pickup, they can do pickup at the stores. That’s going to start the relief. If we do things right, notwithstanding, I’m worried again about the health impact here, but it’s only been a few days. It’s been people outdoors, which also, thank G-d means less spread than when people are indoors. I want to get past this and go back to doing the work we’re doing. We keep doing the good work fighting back this disease, then the next phase happens, and all those store owners you’re talking about are back in business as usual. That does not have to be far away. The religious services come back, that does not have to be far away, if we do the work together. And we will.