NYC mayor directs NYPD, city lawyers to standardize COVID enforcement at gatherings
The order comes after two nights of protests over coronavirus restrictions in neighborhoods with high upticks of the virus
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
NEW YORK — Mayor Bill de Blasio has directed the NYPD and city lawyers to come up with an across-the-board approach on how to enforce coronavirus restrictions at protests.
The mayor’s order comes after two nights of protests in Borough Park, Brooklyn, over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s coronavirus restrictions on businesses, houses of worship and schools in zip codes with high upticks in the virus in Brooklyn and Queens.
“We need a very very clear message to all the communities affected and to the people of New York City of how tonight is going to be handled,” de Blasio told reporters during a press conference Thursday. “I’m again, instructing the NYPD and the Law Department and the legal experts on this, to get together, to come up with a single clear standard, but put it out publicly today so everyone knows exactly what will happen. We must have consistency in our approach to these issues in every part of this city and that’s what we will do.”
Borough Park protesters in the Orthodox Jewish community beat an Orthodox reporter at the latest protest Wednesday evening and reportedly set off fires in the street and blocked police cars from passing earlier this week.
Despite the violence, the New York Post reported no arrests were made on both nights.
Police also issued no summonses or fines to any of the approximately 2,500 attendees at a rally for President Donald Trump over the weekend on Staten Island.
The NYPD’s response has stood in contrast to how it policed the Black Lives Matter protesters over the summer, which were often met with force from the police officers and arrests.
The state’s current guidelines cap social gatherings at 50 people. However, an exception has been made for protests and religious events since the mandate went into effect.
This week, the state made those mandates more stringent in areas where the virus has seen a resurgence and has capped mass gatherings in the “precautionary zone” to a maximum of 25 people, to 10 people in the “warning zone” and to no mass gatherings whatsoever in the “cluster” zone,
Cuomo also said that sponsors of mass gatherings in violation of state public health rules would be hit with a $15,000 fine and New Yorkers caught not wearing face coverings or not maintaining social distancing would be fined $1,000.
The governor’s office said those fines apply to gatherings statewide.
“For the last months, we had a sustained period, three to four months where things were pretty stable and the question of how protests should be handled, again, across the political spectrum, we’ve seen every kind of protest … what we saw on Staten Island over the weekend, to what we saw in Washington Square Park, whatever, you name it, we’ve seen the whole spectrum, and what those rules of engagement were in a period of time where we were in a much better situation with the coronavirus but still obviously dealing with all the other normal questions of health and safety and order and what are the right rules of engagement,” de Blasio said.
“Now, we have something new, we have specific zones delineated not just by the city but by the State of New York in response to a health emergency,” he continued. “I think there still needs to be clarity about what that empowers the NYPD to do not only vis a vis very specific things and these rules like stores for example, but specifically, on the topic of protest, I do understand that there’s a nuance there again I think that should have been resolved yesterday, it needs to be resolved today.”
De Blasio has warned of a potential for a second wave of the virus if New Yorkers let the guards down after Saturday’s Trump rally on Staten Island.
However, he has said he plans to stick to enforcement in the high-infection zip codes and would not consider issuing fines to people not wearing face coverings at large gatherings in other parts of the city, despite urging New Yorkers to avoid large gatherings.
“What we’ve had throughout is a difficult balance that the NYPD and the City of New York’s tried to strike between the healthcare realities and the American right to protest, the Constitutional right to protest, and we have dealt with that in different periods of this crisis and we’ve seen different realities throughout,” he said. “We are now in a new situation, we are in a situation where we have state mandated restrictions in particular areas to stop a resurgence and that resurgence, if it is not stopped will overtake the whole city and will lead to an across the board set of restrictions on all of New York City.”
©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y.