New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he has “no regrets” about publicly calling out members of a Jewish community who packed Brooklyn’s streets for a rabbi’s funeral Tuesday night amid the coronavirus outbreak, calling his criticism an act of “tough love” that was not intended to discriminate as some have accused.
“If in my passion and in my emotion I said something that was in any way hurtful, I’m sorry about that. That was not my intention. But I also want to be clear, I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying we’re going to be dealing with it very, very aggressively,” he said at a press conference Wednesday.
The mayor’s response followed him reprimanding on Twitter those gathered for the event and warning that he had directed police to issue a summons or make arrests. His tweet ignited fury that he chose to publicly single out this mass gathering as opposed to others.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, crowds had gathered in the city’s streets to watch a flyover by the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds to honor health care workers. The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council shared a photo of that flyover event on Twitter and asked where the city’s police force was to disperse the crowds.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, and Councilmember Chaim Deutsch, who represents an area of Brooklyn with a large Orthodox Jewish population, separately condemned the mayor for generalizing the city’s entire Jewish community as having participated in the funeral.
“The few who don’t social distance should be called out — but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews,” Greenblatt tweeted at the mayor.
De Blasio denied that he had unfairly targeted one religious population, arguing that he has had “a long-held relationship with the Orthodox Jewish community.” He went on to say that the crowds gathered in Brooklyn were unlike anything he had ever seen.
It was “by far the largest gathering in any community of New York City of any kind that I had heard of or seen directly or on video since the beginning of this crisis, and it’s just not allowable,” he said. “No, it’s not like people gathering in the park. It was thousands of people.”
“I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way, that was not my intention,” he added. “It was said with love, but it was tough love. It was anger and frustration.”
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea, who said 12 summons were issued to people attending the funeral, echoed de Blasio’s concerns.
“There were thousands of people crammed on one block,” he said. “People have to be accountable for their own actions, regardless of what neighborhood, ethnicity, where they come from. We cannot have what we had last night.”
All non-essential gatherings of any size and for any reason have been banned in New York amid the coronavirus outbreak which has sickened more people in the state than any other in the country.
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