As police officers continue to enforce social distancing measures in cities across the country, the legal consequences of gathering continue to become more serious. Most recently, the New York Police Department (NYPD) broke up an “underground” session of about 60 students at a Jewish school in Brooklyn.
Mayor Bill de Blasio took to Twitter to address the incident on Monday, condemning the behavior of those organizing and attending the Yeshiva school session. "Earlier today the NYPD shut down a Yeshiva conducting classes with as many as 70 children. I can’t stress how dangerous this is for our young people. We’re issuing a Cease and Desist Order and will make sure we keep our communities and our kids safe," Mayor de Blasio tweeted.
The man who was operating the school closed it down immediately, per instruction from officers. Because this was his first offense, no enforcement action was taken, according to a statement by the NYPD. However, de Blasio served another warning in response to the gathering. "If we find them, we'll shut them down, and they won't come back, I assure you,” Mayor de Blasio said about any and all underground schools in an interview on 1010 WINS Radio on Tuesday. “Because if we have to shut down the building itself, we will. I have heard a lot of reports but there's been very few instances where there was actually evidence.”
This is not the first time that the mayor has cracked down on gatherings among the Jewish community, specifically. In April, NYPD officers intervened during a funeral being held by a rabbi in Brooklyn. Following the NYPD’s shutdown of the event, de Blasio condemned the large gathering in a tweet that was later criticized for singling out the Jewish community specifically when other communities have been forsaking social distancing as well. Despite many noting that de Blasio's tweet in this instance referred to the entire Jewish community, rather than those occupying the specific neighborhood where gatherings seem to continue, the mayor said he will not apologize for those statements.
Other states have also seen shutdowns of religious events and related services recently, including the arrest of a pastor in Florida who held church services. In March, Rodney Howard-Brown, a pastor at The River at Tampa Bay was detained by police officers for “reckless disregard for human life” and putting “hundreds of people from his congregation at risk.” Upon being arrested, Howard-Browne was charged with organizing unlawful assembly and violating public health emergency rules, both of which are second-degree misdemeanors. In New York, a pastor was recently fined $1,000 for holding church services as well.
While Governor Andrew Cuomo has stated that he and his administration are working hard to make sure schools are safe to reopen in September, Mayor de Blasio has his doubts about what might be possible, and says he will continue to enforce authority over New York City wherever and whenever possible.
"I respect their desire to continue the work they do, but when other people aren't doing it, they can't do it either. It's just the reality. We don't have school in session in the public schools, we're not allowing any non-essential businesses to open up," de Blasio said in his radio interview. "I love this city, you love this city, but let's face it, there's a lot of people in New York City who like to create their own rules."