Ann Northrop has not left her dwelling typically throughout the coronavirus epidemic. “I’m outdated,” the 72-year-old from Manhattan mentioned. “I don’t wish to get sick.”
However Ms. Northrop nonetheless confirmed as much as a small protest on Sunday to criticize New York officers for permitting a non secular group that opposes homosexual rights to deal with coronavirus sufferers. She felt protected, she mentioned, as a result of her fellow protesters wore face coverings and stood a number of ft aside.
The police, nonetheless, didn’t see it that method. Officers ordered the protesters at First Avenue and 16th Road to disband and gave Ms. Northrop a summons, saying the demonstrators had violated social distancing guidelines specified by govt orders from the mayor and the governor.
“They’re attempting to close down this message,” Ms. Northrop mentioned right into a microphone after the police arrived.
The episode highlighted a problem for activists collaborating in conventional protests: how you can collect, and draw consideration, whereas preserving a protected distance from each other and onlookers?
Some civil rights legal professionals worry that social distancing guidelines may be used as an excuse to curtail free speech.
Comparable points have been raised with different latest protests throughout the nation, many involving demonstrators who refuse to put on masks or to keep up social distancing.
In New York, enforcement has not been uniform. In early April, a handful of nurses gathered outdoors Harlem Hospital to protest a lack of personal protective equipment, standing six aside. In Albany, protesters have routinely gathered outdoors the capital to protest Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s refusal to open up New York’s financial system with out being advised to disperse.
Dermot F. Shea, the police commissioner, defended his officers’ actions on Sunday, saying that they had been implementing govt orders meant to “maintain folks alive.”
“So whereas we drastically, drastically respect the proper of individuals to protest, there shouldn’t be protests happening in the course of a pandemic by gathering outdoors and placing folks in danger,” he mentioned on Monday.
Mayor Invoice de Blasio additionally mentioned on Monday that dispersing the protesters was obligatory to guard lives.
“Individuals who wish to make their voices heard, there’s loads of methods to do it with out gathering in particular person,” Mr. de Blasio advised reporters the next day. He inspired folks to “use all the opposite instruments you need to get your level throughout however keep away from something which may put different folks in hurt’s method.”
The information convention and demonstration on Sunday occurred close to Mount Sinai Beth Israel hospital and lasted 15 minutes. It was organized by the Reclaim Delight Coalition, and members of a second group, Rise and Resist, additionally participated. A few dozen folks took half.
Video from the event reveals a New York police official, in a white shirt and a masks, utilizing a bullhorn. “This gathering is illegal and you might be ordered to disperse,” he advised the group. “Gatherings of any variety have been prohibited by the governor and by the mayor.”
Ms. Northrop, who solely minutes earlier had warned one other particular person on the gathering to maintain his distance, was the one one to obtain a summons for “violating an emergency measure by the mayor.”
The coronavirus outbreak has sickened greater than 171,000 folks in New York Metropolis and has killed not less than 13,000 of them. To restrict the unfold of the illness, Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio have taken draconian steps, closing colleges and “non-essential” companies.
The governor additionally has ordered New York Metropolis’s subway system be closed for a number of hours every evening for cleansing and to supply assist to homeless individuals who have taken refuge within the transit system.
For activists like Invoice Dobbs, an legal professional and member of Reclaim Delight, the order to disperse was unconstitutional as a result of folks have been allowed to be on the street so long as they remained six ft aside. “If folks can transfer round on the sidewalk, the First Modification in nonetheless intact,” he mentioned.
Linda Sarsour, one of many organizers of the Girls’s March in Washington, mentioned even throughout a pandemic “the mayor and governor shouldn’t have the authority to violate our constitutional rights — there are nonetheless legal guidelines they should comply with, too.”
Norman Siegel, a veteran civil rights lawyer, despatched a letter Tuesday to Mr. Cuomo and Mr. de Blasio urging them to rescind elements of their govt orders that curtail information conferences and protests the place contributors put on face coverings and keep acceptable distances.
Within the letter, Mr. Siegel wrote that authorities officers “have a robust curiosity in defending the well being and security of New Yorkers” however can not constitutionally ban or droop freedom of speech and meeting.
“This might set a really alarming pattern across the nation,” he mentioned in an interview.
A spokeswoman for the mayor, Olivia Lapeyrolerie, nonetheless, mentioned the police would proceed to interrupt up giant gatherings, whether or not in parks or on avenue corners. “This pandemic has killed not less than 13,000 New Yorkers, and won’t be handled as enterprise as common,” she mentioned in a press release. “That’s our duty to New Yorkers and we take it extremely critically.”
— to www.nytimes.com