Led by activist Heshy Tischler and a number of state assemblymen, the group was seen in videos shared to social media on Monday breaking the lock off a gate barring the entrance to a park in Williamsburg, allowing a crowd gathered outside to enter, to cheers of “Heshy!”
Based Orthodox Jews reject de Blasio’s hypocritical orders to close the park (for social distancing) and cut the locks so their kids can play. pic.twitter.com/msAafBjqY6
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) June 15, 2020
Tensions between New York’s Orthodox population and the city administration have soared to new heights in recent months, with community members insisting Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Covid-19 containment measures have been applied more heavily to Jewish neighborhoods. In April, De Blasio came under fire after he personally supervised police as they broke up a large funeral procession for a popular local rabbi, singling out the “Jewish community” by name in a chastising tweet warning of the dangers of the virus.
Breaking news: Middleton Playground in Williamsburg has been liberated. Bolt cutters and a Boro Park radio(?) personality named Heshy were involved. Local state assemblyman on hand too pic.twitter.com/88LLUKhtCE
— Armin Rosen (@ArminRosen) June 15, 2020
More recently, city workers were seen welding shut some parks in an effort to enforce the lockdown and keep residents away, but that has done little to tamp down on frustration over the measures, apparently inspiring Tischler’s act of civil disobedience earlier on Monday. He may have taken cues from others, however, as dozens of other locks have reportedly been snapped off of park gates in recent weeks.
“Every playground in the City is closed. This is a matter of health and safety,” said Jane Meyer, deputy press secretary for De Blasio’s office, explaining the decision to keep parks shuttered. The city Parks and Recreation office, meanwhile, noted the welding was a “reversible procedure” and said the gate would soon be un-welded and fitted with a new chain.
In a similar effort to discourage park-goers, the city has removed basketball hoops and other amenities, which has also sparked outrage among community members – even those taking careful precautions to limit exposure to Covid-19.
Local lawmakers have waded into the row, with New York State Senator Simcha Felder stating that residents are “running out of patience” with the lockdown. He demanded that the mayor open every playground in his community, vowing that he and other officials would “cut the locks open” themselves if De Blasio failed to act.
Some of the anger among residents has been driven by the city’s apparent double standard toward which types of public gatherings are acceptable. As authorities crack down on playgrounds and even funeral ceremonies, tens of thousands of protesters have been allowed to gather and march all over the city, facing little to no resistance despite ignoring the lockdown and social distancing measures. As city workers dutifully welded parks shut on Monday, a large crowd was seen freely protesting in Washington Square Park, while Sunday saw an even more massive gathering in Brooklyn.
.@NYCMayor: Don’t leave kids behind. OPEN THE PLAYGROUNDS NOW!
Playgrounds + school yards are essential to children. They need a place to play that’s safe.
— Simcha Eichenstein (@SEichenstein) June 14, 2020
“I couldn’t be at the hospital yesterday when my granddaughter was born! But this can happen!”said one outraged netizen, referring to Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest.
De Blasio, moreover, has stated that protest attendees will not be “asked proactively” if they participated in any demonstrations by contact tracers looking to map the spread of the virus, drawing further cries of hypocrisy. While the move was meant to protect the privacy and speech rights of protesters, critics insist those rights apply evenly to all New Yorkers, not only those expressing one type of political viewpoint.
The park inside the ultra-orthodox neighborhood in Brooklyn has been locked twenty-five times. Each time the locks are broken so residents can use the park.
Middleton park is still off limits to residents in keeping with Covid-19 social distancing restrictions even though mass protests where social distancing was not kept did not provoke any attempts at enforcement by the authorities.
The police intend to solder shut the gates of the park.
New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio said the following at a press conference this morning:
“We’re not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands. It just doesn’t work. So people are not allowed to open up a playground that is not yet available to the public.”