Orthodox Jewish protesters gathered in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, burning masks and accusing Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of using them as scapegoats for the recent spike in COVID-19 infections.
Crowds of hundreds in the Borough Park neighborhood refused to disperse, despite directives by police officers on the scene.
De Blasio has repeatedly warned that anyone not complying with mask mandates will be fined up to $1,000, but the New York Police Department told Fox News that no fines were issued and no arrests were made during Tuesday’s demonstrations.
Protesters chanted “Jewish lives matter,” decrying new restrictions by state officials that have reduced religious gatherings at synagogues to 10 people or less and shuttered schools and nonessential businesses in nine neighborhoods.
In New York City, about 11,600 people have tested positive since Sept. 1, compared with less than 7,400 in August.
All of the restrictions will likely take effect no later than Thursday, de Blasio press secretary Bill Neidhardt said on Twitter.
The targeted ZIP codes — considered hotspots for the virus — include parts of southern Brooklyn that have large Orthodox Jewish populations.
“We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, the right to observe our religion,” City Councilman Kalman Yeger told a crowd of protesters.
Cuomo has repeatedly attributed the uptick in infections, in part, to large gatherings in several Jewish communities that didn’t adhere to safety protocols such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.
“Orthodox Jewish gatherings often are very, very large, and we’ve seen what one person can do in a group,” Cuomo said during a news conference on Monday.
“Mass gatherings are the super-spreader events,” the governor continued. “We know there have been mass gatherings going on in concert with religious institutions in these communities for weeks … I’m talking about you’re only supposed to have 50 outdoors; they had 1,000 … You don’t see masks, and you see a clear violation of social-distancing.”
Local lawmakers have said they are “appalled” at Cuomo’s restrictions and blasted his rhetoric as “irresponsible and pejorative” to the Jewish community.
“His language was dangerous and divisive and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State,” State Sen. Simcha Felder, State Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein, and councilmembers Yeger and Chaim Deutsch said in a joint statement Tuesday.
Despite all four local legislators representing hot-spot communities, they decried the governor’s “lack of coordination and communication with local officials,” and called his decision to close synagogues “a duplicitous bait-and-switch.”
During another gathering on Monday night in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, celebrating the Jewish holiday Sukkot, police said they worked with the community and religious leaders to facilitate a safe celebration.
“Several participants moved from the sidewalk to the street, so officers from the 71st Precinct closed a one-block portion of Kingston Avenue to vehicular traffic to ensure public safety and to reinforce the importance of best health practices,” the NYPD said in a statement. “No enforcement action was taken.”
Videos online “showed throngs of protesters resisting police efforts to disperse large crowds from off the streets, many of whom were teenagers,” a police official told Fox News.