Monday, June 29, 2020
New York City was the center of the most severe coronavirus outbreak in the United States, with equally severe lockdown policies to match it. However, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio drew international attention for what seemed to be exceptionally strict enforcement of social distancing measures upon Orthodox Jewish communities.
As the Mayor walked shoulder-to-shoulder with Black Lives Matter protesters and turned a blind eye to unfettered looting, his police officers patrolled Brooklyn, threatening Hasidic communities with arrest for attending evening prayers.
De Blasio's uneven enforcement of lockdown policies earned him a rebuke from Eric Dreiband, the US Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. Dreiband's letter noted that even as de Blasio was actively endorsing Black Lives Matter protesters' First Amendment rights to peaceful protest, he was actively opposing Orthodox Jews' First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.
'During the period in which all gatherings were banned, you reportedly sent police officers to break up numerous gatherings of the Jewish community in New York, including reported outdoor gatherings for funerals,' read Dreiband's letter. 'In light of your support for and participation in recent protests in New York City, the message to the public from New York City's government appears to favor certain secular gatherings and disfavor religious gatherings.'
Eventually, Orthodox communities started to push back against de Blasio. A group of Jewish children displayed a sign reading 'Justice for George Floyd' at their carnival in the hopes that it would deter police interference. Videos of Jewish leaders taking a pair of bolt cutters to a lock that the city had placed on a neighborhood playground earned millions of views on social media.
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