Uproar when Bill de Blasio, NYPD commissioner declare protests won’t be tolerated amid shutdown

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New York City’s mayor and police commissioner think social distancing and coronavirus guidelines during the pandemic trump the constitutional rights of Americans.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea claimed this week that the First Amendment rights of free speech and assembly have to take a back seat to the executive orders issued in the efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19.

(Image: NBC News screenshot)

The officials made it clear that no public protests or demonstrations would be allowed in New York City during a news briefing when the question came up about a news conference held by LGBTQ activists the day before.

The Reclaim Pride group had gathered outside of Mount Sinai Hospital to protest its relationship with Samaritan Purse, the Christian organization that set up a field hospital at the hospital’s invitation to help serve an overflow of patients amid the pandemic.

Dozens of police officers broke up the crowd which was reportedly following the social distancing rules. Shea was asked about the incident in light of the freedom of speech protest rights.

“You’re talking about some of the values we hold in the highest regard in this country and certainly in this city, the right for people to gather, the right to free speech and the right to protest,” the police commissioner said.

“But now comes the bad news,” Shea added. “We’re in a pandemic and executive orders have been issued, these are laws that have been passed down through executive order to keep people alive, while we greatly, greatly respect the right of people to protest, there should not be protests taking place in the middle of a pandemic by gathering outside and putting people at risk.”

“People who want to make their voices heard there are plenty of ways to do it without gathering in person,” de Blasio added during the news conference.

“The question is always whoever has whatever cause they want to speak to are they interested in protecting other people’s lives? If they are, use all the other tools you have to get your point across but avoid anything that might put other people in harm’s way,” he said.

The Democratic mayor came under fire last month for launching a hotline to be used to report non-compliance and he ignited a firestorm of backlash after he threatened the city’s entire Jewish community and sent police to break up a large funeral gathering.

US Attorney General William Barr suggested last week that adjustments need to start being made now that the coronavirus “curve has been flattened” and reiterated that the “Bill of Rights doesn’t go away” at a time of national emergency.

Barr had also advised federal prosecutors across the country to be on guard against any policies being issued that could be in violation of citizens’ rights and civil liberties, adding that the Justice Department would intervene if the constitutional rights of citizens were violated by any measures implemented by authorities in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as de Blasio and other officials reiterate the need to wear protective masks and maintain social distancing to prevent a greater spread of COVID-19, questions remain about the effectiveness of some of the emergency guidelines.

The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota noted that the cloth masks that people are being required to wear while in public have “little impact” on spreading the virus.

“People want to wear a mask. That’s great. But I think we’re going to show in the end that many more health care workers were infected by working with only surgical masks and not N95 [masks]. I realize and understand the shortage of N95. I get that [surgical masks] are better than nothing, but I don’t think that it offers anywhere near the protection that we need for this virus,” Dr. Michael Osterholm said

“Cloth masks, I think are at the very bottom of the list. They have little impact if any,” he added. “But they’ve become basically something that people feel like they have to do or want to do it. If they want to do it, go ahead.”

Meanwhile, New York City’s ban on protests ignited plenty of reaction on Twitter.


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