On Tuesday, New York police went to a rabbi’s funeral in Williamsburg, Brooklyn to break up large crowds of mourners who defied coronavirus orders. In fact, Mayor Bill de Blasio went himself to oversee that the crowd dispersed. NBC News reports that the rabbi, identified by some publications as Chaim Mertz, died of COVID-19. In a statement, the synagogue said it had a plan for abiding by social distancing and wearing masks, and that, unfortunately, it did not pan out. At a news conference on Wednesday, NYPD Commissioner Dermont Sea said summonses had been issued for social distancing order violations and failure to disperse, reported local outlet NBC 4 New York. “It better not happen again," he said, according to the outlet. All nonessential gatherings (regardless of size) have been banned in the city amid the pandemic.
What has people heated to begin with, however, is a series of tweets the mayor sent out warning “the Jewish community” about abiding by crowd size orders amid the pandemic late on Tuesday night. Considerable outrage erupted on Twitter. As of Wednesday, he gave a press conference where he explained himself further and apologized for inadvertently hurting feelings. What has people upset? Let’s look at the original tweets and then his update below.
After the funeral dispersed, the mayor tweeted out these statements:
Then on Wednesday at a press conference, he said: “Members of the Jewish community were putting each other in danger, they were putting our police officers in danger. Now, if I see it in any other community, I will call it out equally.”
In response to criticism about his tweets, he said he does “regret” if the way he said it “gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way.” And that it wasn’t his “intention.”
At the press conference, the mayor was asked if he felt the Jewish community in Brooklyn deserved an apology from him. He said it’s a community he “loves.” De Blasio does have a long history of working with the Hasidic (a subset of Orthodox) community in the city, as noted by BuzzFeed News.
At the press conference, he continued: “If you saw anger and frustration, you’re right. I spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger before my eyes and I was not going to tolerate it. So 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. It was said with love, but it was tough love.”
He also suggested that the funerals were not comparable with people gathering outside, like in city parks. "What I saw, no, it has not happened other places [...] This kind of gathering has happened in only a few places. And it cannot continue. It's endangering the lives of people in the community.” He also added that he will not tolerate any anti-Semitism.
Here is a clip of the press conference from Wednesday where you can hear the above quotes:
Twitter came out with frustration, anger, and hurt after his initial tweets. People feel that de Blasio singled out the Jewish community in an already dangerous time for Jewish people. Many also pointed out that his flub of writing the “Jewish community” is an inaccurately large sweep. One rabbi herself even tweeted that her community stopped in-person meetings in early June. Basically: No community is a monolith, and generalizing tweets can be harmful to a community that already experiences implicit bias and violent crimes, especially in that specific area.
“I understand the power of words, obviously. But I’m not going to let that power, that concern over words, overcome the value of human life,” de Blasio added at the press conference.