New York City mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said that although mass protests had erupted in the city, religious institutions and small business owners would still be closed until Monday.
“When you see . . . an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seated 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,” de Blasio told a reporter for the ultra-Orthodox Jewish publication Hamodia.
“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 [at] the bars,’ and not notice that all of America is grappling simultaneously with a horrible crisis,” the mayor continued. “Sorry guys, there’s a world outside New York City.”
De Blasio said that while he did fear that demonstrations could result in another outbreak of coronavirus, New York institutions would continue to reopen according to the timetable set in conjunction with state health officials. New York has seen widespread looting in the upscale neighborhoods of Soho and Midtown Manhattan, as well as in parts of Brooklyn.
De Blasio has clashed with ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities in the city during the course of the pandemic. In late April, after police dispersed a crowd at a funeral for a Brooklyn rabbi, the mayor wrote on Twitter, “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups.”
While the tweet provoked criticism from the Satmar ultra-Orthodox sect, whose leaders had organized the funeral, some in the sect defended the mayor from other critics.
“We strongly denounce the vicious attacks against the Mayor, particularly those accusing him of anti-Semitism,” wrote Mayer Rispler, head of a Satmar faction. “The close relationship between Mr. De Blasio and our community goes back close to two decades…We consider him a dear friend.”
Last week, however, demonstrations protesting the death of George Floyd, an African American man killed during arrest by white officers, spread across the city. Those demonstrations have devolved into looting and rioting. Rioters and even peaceful protesters have not adhered to social-distancing guidelines.
“You don’t get to pick and choose First Amendment freedoms. You don’t get to side with protesters and slough off churches and synagogues,” Senator Ben Sasse (R., Neb.) said in response to de Blasio’s decision to keep businesses and religious institutions closed. “Americans ought to hope that New York City is sued so that Bill de Blasio’s nonsense gets laughed out of court.”