New COVID-19 restrictions set to take effect in sections of New York City sparked protests from members of the Borough Park Orthodox community on Tuesday night, as they defied dispersal orders and lit a rubbish fire.
Most of Borough Park is subject to the most stringent of three levels of restrictions and as such, the neighborhood will have its non-essential businesses closed. The restrictions are set to last at least two weeks and include limiting indoor worship services to 10 people.
Community activist Heshy Tischler spoke to a large crowd around 9 p.m., saying "It's called civil disobedience, we can fight back! Do not allow them to torture you or scare you," as he tore up a face mask. Councilman Kalman Yeger later also spoke at a protest on 13th Avenue, telling the crowd, "We are not going to be deprived of the right that we have in America, like everybody else in America, the right to observe our religion."
The protest later turned unruly, as vehicular traffic was impeded and a sizable pile of rubbish was set ablaze at 46th Street. The crowd chanted "Sheriff go home!" at two city sheriff's deputies who arrived at the scene until they were forced to sheepishly turned away. The protest continued until firefighters arrived to put out the fire at 1:30 a.m.
Councilman Yeger was one of four legislators who released a joint statement condemning Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bill DeBlasio for their abuse of power and overreach on civil liberties.
"We are appalled by Governor Cuomo's words and actions today. He has chosen to pursue a scientifically and constitutionally questionable shutdown of our communities," said the statement from Yeger, State Sen. Simcha Felder, Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein and Councilman Chaim Deutsch.
"His administration's utter lack of coordination and communication with local officials has been an ongoing issue since the start of the pandemic, and particularly recently as we face this uptick."
The lawmakers reasoned that despite the uptick of COVID-19 cases in their neighborhoods, the Cuomo administration had left them in the dark regarding the decision. The legislators also condemned Cuomo for displaying outdated and thus inaccurate photos of New York's Jewish community gathering in large numbers during his press briefing on Monday.
"Governor Cuomo's choice to single out a particular religious group, complete with a slideshow of photos to highlight his point, was outrageous," read the letter.
"His language was dangerous and divisive, and left the implication that Orthodox Jews alone are responsible for rising COVID cases in New York State," the elected officials said.