De Blasio Under Fire for Selective Enforcement of Social-Distancing Guidelines

The mayor’s decision to single out Jews has no evidence in police data

NYC mayor Bill de Blasio
NYC mayor Bill de Blasio / Getty Images
May 11, 2020

New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is under fire from liberal groups raising serious concerns about the selective enforcement of social-distancing regulations.

In the wake of a tweet in which de Blasio singled out Jewish New Yorkers, warning them to adhere to the regulations, two liberal groups on Monday called on the mayor to remove enforcement of the regulations from the purview of the New York Police Department.

Data compiled by the NYPD show that though de Blasio has chided Jews for their failure to follow the guidelines, there is no indication the Orthodox Jewish community has violated the laws at a higher rate than other New Yorkers. Black and Hispanic New Yorkers have received the vast majority of police summonses for violating social-distancing laws, which criminal justice reform advocates say is evidence that they are being selectively targeted by law enforcement.

"Following Mayor de Blasio's comments last month that raised legitimate fears of disparate enforcement toward New York's Orthodox Jewish community, his administration and local officials across the state should have taken every precaution to ensure the enforcement of social distancing rules was carried out equally and consistently throughout the whole city, and without resorting to the kind of over-criminalization that has unnecessarily subjected far too many people to the criminal justice system," said Khalil Cumberbatch, the chief strategist of New Yorkers United for Justice, which advocates for criminal justice reform.

De Blasio's stumbling coronavirus response efforts have been a source of controversy. The NYPD union president called de Blasio an "idiot" for his comments about the Jewish community, which has been the target of increasing anti-Semitic violent attacks.

The mayor also faced criticism last week for suggesting he might close the city parks—just days after he was spotted traveling 12 miles to take a walk in his favorite park in Brooklyn, a potential violation of his ban on "nonessential" trips. His former spokeswoman Lis Smith panned his performance on Monday, telling Politico: "I do not think he has done well, and I don't know a single person who thinks he has done well."

While de Blasio criticized the NYPD on Friday, saying the racial discrepancies show "something's wrong," his office declined to comment on what guidance he has given police and why he has singled out the Jewish community in his public statements.

The NYPD said it has issued 374 summonses "for acts likely to spread disease and to violate emergency measures"—such as a failure to properly distance or wear masks—between March 16 and May 5. Over half of those summonses, 193, were issued to black respondents, and 111 were issued to Hispanic respondents. Fifty-one were white, 14 were Asian or Pacific Islander, 3 were American Indian, and 2 were unknown, according to the NYPD statistics.

The NYPD has "had around 1,000,000 contacts with the public in our awareness and educational visits across the five boroughs" during its enforcement of de Blasio's coronavirus laws, spokeswoman Mary Frances O'Donnell told the Washington Free Beacon. The department indicated earlier this month that it would provide masks to individuals without face protection rather than impose a criminal penalty.

De Blasio decried the police statistics during a press conference on Friday.

"When I saw those numbers I found them to be an indicator that something's wrong and we need to fix it. And we will fix it," said de Blasio.

The New York City mayor faced public backlash after he posted a Twitter comment singling out the "Jewish community" for alleged violations of his social-distancing laws.

"My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period," wrote de Blasio on April 28.

He made the comments after photos went viral online showing crowds of Orthodox Jewish mourners attending the funeral of a Hasidic rabbi.

The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also issued a statement on Monday criticizing the "disparate treatment by law enforcement authorities as well as pronouncements by elected political officials adversely impacting groups including African Americans, Asian Americans, Hasidic Jewish Americans, and Hispanic Americans, among others."

"Overcriminalization inevitably results in selective law enforcement that hits minority communities the hardest," said NACDL executive director Norman L. Reimer. "Let us not repeat the mistakes of the past when we turned public health concerns associated with drugs into an instrument of oppression and put the nation on a path to mass incarceration. Let us be smart this time and rely on civic education rather than criminal prosecution."

CORRECTION, May 10, 9:54 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect the fact that the head of the NYPD union, not the head of the NYPD, called de Blasio an "idiot."

CORRECTION, May 11, 3:52 p.m.: This article previously misattributed a quote to NACDL president Nina Ginsberg. The quote came from NACDL executive director Reimer.

Published under: Bill de Blasio