Jumaane Blames Mayor, Governor for Disparate Social Distancing Enforcement

Public Advocate was alone among elected officials as he joined activists in protest against the disparate COVID social distancing law enforcement actions against communities of color.
Jon Farina

More than 50 activists participated in a Lower Manhattan protest that Public Advocate Jumaane Williams led on Monday afternoon against recent incidents of police brutality and overreach when enforcing rules on social distancing and gathering.

The protests came days after the NYPD released data which found that people of color are receiving most of the summonses and even getting arrested during enforcement of distancing requirements and the ban on outdoor gatherings in New York City during the COVID-19 crisis.

The demonstrators marched from Foley Square to One Police Plaza, followed by a phalanx of police officers who didn’t interfere with the rally. The demonstrators were careful to maintain their social distance, staying six feet apart from each other and wearing PPE masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Williams said he was outraged by police behavior in past weeks in which 68 precent of the recipients of summonses were Black and brown people, with some arrested for those gatherings or related charges.

The rally included many activists who blamed Mayor Bill de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo for pushing the NYPD to enforce “unreasonable social distancing on minority communities.”

“The leaders, Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, said 10 weeks ago that New Yorkers should stay at home,” Williams told the crowd as a large group of police officers watched from a distance. “A couple weeks after that, they told New Yorkers to go to work, that they are ‘expendable.’ You know, 75 percent of essential workers are Black and brown, but this virus does not discriminate. Every social and economic status is suffering. Laws don’t discriminate, people’s policies do.”

Williams said he did not blame the NYPD, but rather the social distancing policies created.

Protesters in Foley Square on Monday.Jon Farina

No other elected officials joined Williams and the activists in the demonstration, which the NYPD allowed to finish. Over the past week, the NYPD had broken up several other rallies across the city.

One protest held by Reclaim Pride and two others at City Hall Park by those opposed to the economic shutdown saw heavy police presence where demonstrators were intimidated or summonsed for defying a mayoral order barring outdoor demonstrations.

De Blasio bore the brunt of their criticism this past week as police cracked down on some, but allowed others. The mayor maintains that “nobody should be holding rallies during the COVID-19 crisis,” and can get their message out in other ways including online.

The NYPD became embroiled in controversy just two weeks earlier when members of the Satmar Jewish community in Williamsburg held a funeral for a revered rabbi that had more than 2,000 people in attendance. That rabbi died of COVID-19, the virus ravaging that community.

This story was first published in amny.com. To sign up for the Gay City News email newsletter, visit gaycitynews.com/newsletter.