What to Know
- Protests have erupted on three consecutive nights in Brooklyn's Borough Park neighborhood, one of nine in the city most affected by the latest round of COVID restrictions issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo
- Many of the hotspots involve enclaves of ultra-Orthodox Jewish community members who protest the new mass gathering bans; nonessential businesses and schools have also been shut down
- On the other side of the spectrum, more than 400 rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders signed a statement in support of the data-driven, life-saving measures to prevent more COVID spread in NY
An arrest is expected "shortly," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday morning, in connection with Wednesday night's attack of a journalist reporting on protests against the newest COVID restrictions implemented in parts of Brooklyn.
Speaking to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, de Blasio told listeners the NYPD was prepared to make an arrest two days after Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh reported he was attacked Wednesday night in Borough Park. A day earlier, he had called the attack "unacceptable" and expressed surprise no one had been charged yet.
Kornbluh said he was attacked after activist Heschy Tishler – who gained citywide attention after heckling health officials at a news briefing two weeks ago – pointed him out to the crowd. Tischler later accused him of "crying wolf."
De Blasio has said consequences "clearly" should have been issued in the Wednesday night attack on Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh. The mayor previously said he didn't understand why it hadn't happened already, based on what he had seen.
Both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo said they have spoken with Kornbluh since the attack and on Friday the governor put his support behind a speedy arrest for the parties responsible.
"Peaceful protest is peaceful protest, criminal behavior is criminal behavior, prosecute criminal behavior. NYPD, arrest people who are in the midst of criminal behavior. District attorney, prosecute a person for criminal behavior. The law is the law," Cuomo said Friday.
Bruce Schaff has been photographing protests since thousands took to the streets in the wake of George Floyd's death back in May. But the freelancer says none of them could compare to what he went through while trying to document demonstrations against the latest COVID-19 restrictions in New York City.
"It was absolutely insane," said Schaff, who was one of at least two men attacked while covering demonstrations Borough Park Tuesday.
In a Zoom interview from his home Wednesday, Schaff said the situation began to go awry as soon as he arrived at 13th Avenue and 50th Street – the epicenter of the demonstrations. He said he was swarmed by protesters as he tried to capture the crowd. Photos and video he took showed them pushing towards him, trying to shield their faces and grabbing at his camera.
Making matters worse, Schaff says there weren't enough police on hand to keep things from getting out of control.
"I’ve been at BLM protests where there are 60 people and 200 cops, he said. "Last night there were two police officers."
Asked about that Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the more extensive response tends to accompany situations where there has been violence against people, property and police officers, as was evident in the early nights of the George Floyd protests. But he also said, "We absolutely must have consistency of response."
While no arrests have been reported over the last several nights, Schaff has not been the only one to report being attacked. Another man, identified as Berish Getz, was harassed as he tried to film the protests from a trailer Tuesday night.
Family members who didn't want to be identified out of fear of retribution said that Getz was called a "snitch" by fellow protesters who chanted "all the evil should be cut." When he climbed down from the trailer, he was kicked and beaten unconscious. Getz's family said he was treated at the hospital and that arrests should have been made.
"There is no excuse for violence, especially against a reporter. It was disgusting behavior, frankly," the governor said Thursday. "You're all citizens of New York, you have an obligation to each other. This is irrational illogical ugly illegal conduct and it shouldn't be tolerated." Cuomo called it an affront to various Jewish communities.
This all comes after a third night of protests continued in the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, which is along the so-called "Ocean Parkway" Covid cluster in south Brooklyn. Thursday's protests were far smaller and more orderly than the two that preceded it.
Some in that community take issue with the new limitations on crowd sizes and religious gatherings. In red zones where positivity rates are highest, there's a hard cap of 10 congregants; it's just 25 in lower-risk "orange zones." The sweeping slate of restrictions also shutters nonessential businesses and closes schools in the highest-risk neighborhoods.
Borough Park is one of nine of those in the city. Some areas are subject to lesser restrictions, based on the color-coded system Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled this week.
While images of protesters burning masks in the street earlier this week may be seared into people's minds, they reflect only a subset of the Jewish community -- one that is divided even among its own members. On Thursday, the New York Jewish Agenda released a statement signed by more than 400 rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders in support of the "data-driven, life-saving measures" to prevent the spread of COVID that were newly unveiled in New York this week. Orthodox clergy members were among those who signed their names.
“We support the governor’s and mayor’s efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 by using a data-driven, geographically based approach,” NYJA President Matt Nosanchuk said in a statement. "Today, more than 300 Rabbis and other Jewish religious leaders came together to make clear there is no higher Jewish value than saving a human life."
The other end of the spectrum has featured two nights of protesters setting fires in the streets, tossing masks into the flames and waving Trump flags in stark opposition to the latest shutdowns. Some protests have turned violent, though the NYPD has said no arrests have been made on either night thus far.
"We have to ensure that all communities are treated the same way. I think we had a difference last night than the night before," he added, saying the Tuesday night protests were not expected in terms of crowd size and police presence was limited. "My understanding is last night there was much more police presence."
Asked what would happen Thursday night, now that the crowd restrictions are in effect, de Blasio said he had tasked the NYPD and law department with setting a "single, clear" standard for protest response -- and to release that publicly.
Those George Floyd protests, and the more encompassing Black Lives Matter demonstrations that followed for weeks, are part of the argument of the people fighting the new COVID restrictions. They say Orthodox Jewish gatherings are being singled out for a clampdown, noting that huge crowds convened this spring for racial injustice protests where destruction and violence sometimes broke out.
De Blasio at the time of those Black Lives Matter protests described them as a separate issue, condemning the death of George Floyd and other Black men at the hands of police. The COVID issue in New York is a public health one. While he acknowledged the challenge the new restrictions present for certain communities, he warned "there will be consequences" for noncompliance and violence against police enforcing the rules or anyone else will not be tolerated.
Cuomo insists the new restrictions are based solely on science and coronavirus case clusters in areas that, in his view, have flouted the state’s existing virus-safety rules. He doubled down on that in a telebriefing with reporters Thursday -- and called out the NYPD, as he has done previously, over their enforcement job.
Daily Percentage of Positive Tests by New York Region
Gov. Andrew Cuomo breaks the state into 10 regions for testing purposes and tracks positivity rates to identify potential hotspots. Here's the latest tracking data by region and for the five boroughs. For the latest county-level results statewide, click here
The positivity rate for the state's 20 hotspot ZIP codes is 5.8 percent as of Thursday, Cuomo said, while the statewide positivity rate hit 1.26 percent. Without the hotspots, it would be around 1.01 percent. In one Brooklyn ZIP code, 18 percent of everyone who has gotten a coronavirus test since Oct. 1 has tested positive, compared with about 3.9 percent citywide, according to city data.
After becoming the nation’s deadliest coronavirus hotspot this spring, New York wrestled its outbreak down to a steady and relatively low level over the summer.
But infections have been rising in recent weeks. Hospitalizations are up, both in New York City and statewide. Total hospitalizations statewide hit 754 Thursday, the highest number in months, though a far cry from the nearly 19,000 patients in hospitals at the peak of the crisis in April. The city's daily case average is soaring.
Resistance to the latest shutdowns is not isolated to the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, said churches “fervently object" to being told to reduce capacity after not having any outbreaks since reopening in July.
Business interests are dismayed, too.
“To shut down almost all of south Brooklyn and punish small businesses that have reopened safely will be an overwhelming setback to the borough’s economic recovery,” Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce President Randy Peers said in a statement.