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Governor Hochul considers banning masks on NYC subway, citing anti-Semitic acts

Governor Hochul considers banning masks on NYC subway, citing anti-Semitic acts

New York Governor Kathy Hochul said she was considering banning masks on the New York subway, following what she described as concerns about people hiding their identities while committing anti-Semitic acts .

ALBANY, N.Y. — Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday she is considering banning face masks on the New York City subway because of concerns about people hiding their identities while committing anti-Semitic acts.

Hochul, a Democrat, told reporters that the exact details of the policy are unclear, but that it would contain “common sense exemptions” for health, cultural or religious reasons. Many people concerned about COVID-19 and air pollution regularly wear masks on the subway. .

Hochul said she is in talks with lawmakers about the possibility of developing a bill.

At a news conference in Albany, the governor said she was spurred into action after “a group wearing masks took over a subway car, frightening passengers and chanting about Hitler.” and exterminating the Jews” Monday evening.

It’s unclear exactly which incident she was referring to, but it could be an amalgamation of different episodes related to the pro-Palestinian protests that day in Union Square Park.

Hundreds of people leaving the rally streamed into a subway station, some waving flags and banging drums, to board trains bound for the city center. On one train, a man who was not wearing a mask led a small group in chanting “Raise your hand if you are a Zionist” to other passengers, followed by “This is your chance to get out.”

Meanwhile, a video circulating on social media showed a confrontation that allegedly took place earlier in the day, when a man in Union Square – who was also not wearing a mask – was recorded shouting: “ I wish Hitler was still here. He would have destroyed you all.

It’s unclear if he was involved in the protest or who he was yelling at. A group of people waving Israeli flags were also in the park at the time.

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to avoid responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Hochul said. “My team is working on a solution, but in a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

New York passed a law banning masks in public in the 1800s in response to rent protests. It was suspended in 2020 by the then government. Andrew Cuomo as part of a pandemic public health campaign, and masks have also been made mandatory for subway riders until September 2022.

The mask ban had already drawn criticism from civil rights groups, who said it was selectively enforced to disperse protests where people wanted to hide their identities to avoid legal or legal repercussions. professionals.

“The governor’s concerns about masks concealing criminal activity will not be assuaged by banning anonymous peaceful protests. The mask ban was originally developed to suppress political protests, and like other laws that criminalize people, it will be selectively enforced – used to arrest, doxx, surveil, and silence people of color and protesters with which the police do not agree,” Donna Lieberman, executive director. of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.

“A ban on mask wearing would be easily violated by bad actors and, if someone engages in illegal actions, judgment should be based on the criminal behavior and not their attire,” she said .

Hochul acknowledged that reinstating a ban would be complicated.

“We understand how complex this issue is, and we just listen to people, respond to their needs and take them very seriously,” she said.

Since the start of the war between Hamas and Israel in October, hundreds of protests by pro-Palestinian activists have taken place in the city, the majority of them peaceful. Wearing masks by attendees is common, in part because of fears about police surveillance.

Mayor Eric Adams has also talked about reinstating some version of the old mask bans and once suggested that merchants tell people they have to take them off to enter.

Wearing masks in public has declined since COVID-19 deaths declined, but many still use them.

“Some people are at high risk of severe illness from a respiratory infection and may use masks in a busy place like the subway to reduce their risk of getting an infection,” Amesh Adalja, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center. for health security, said by email.