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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday said that throngs of protesters marching shoulder to shoulder and rioting in the streets is nothing like a group of the faithful sitting in church pews.
De Blasio, a democratic socialist, told reporters during a press conference that the two are “not the same.”
“When you see a nation, an entire nation, simultaneously grappling with an extraordinary crisis seeded in 400 years of American racism,” de Blasio said. “I’m sorry, that is not the same question as the understandably aggrieved store owner or the devout religious person who wants to go back to services.”
“This is something that’s not about which side of the spectrum you’re on,” the mayor said. “It’s about a deep, deep American crisis. We have never seen anything quite like what we’ve seen in the last few days. This is powerful, painful, historical moment.”
“So, no,” he added. “I have eyes to see. We’re not going to treat it like it’s any other day, we’re not going to treat it like, ‘Why are people outside the bars?’ and not notice that all of America is grappling simultaneously with a horrible crisis. Sorry, guys, there’s a world outside New York City. So, we’re dealing with this.”
The mayor has cracked down on the Jewish community for breaking lockdown measures he has enacted on city residents. But he’s done little to break up the masses of protesters demonstrating in the streets over George Floyd, who died on Memorial Day at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
Meanwhile, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, also a Democrat, is allowing protesters to break social distancing edicts and restrictions on the number of people gathering, while leaving in place her executive order restricting church attendance.
Whitmer and Lt. Gov. Garland Gilchrist say they are “encouraging communities across Michigan to designate areas for peaceful demonstrations” in response to the death of Floyd.
“The First Amendment right to protest has never been more important, and in this moment when we are still battling a killer virus, it is crucial that those who choose to demonstrate do so peacefully, and in a way that follows social distancing guidelines to protect public health,” the two said in a statement.
But churches must still limit groups to 50 or fewer while all “social gatherings” outside are still limited to 100. Last month, a group of churches in the state filed a federal suit against the governor, and shortly thereafter, she declared in Executive Order 2020-70, “Consistent with prior guidance, neither a place of religious worship nor its owner is subject to penalty under section 20 of this order for allowing religious worship at such place.”
Before Floyd’s death, Whitmer said residents protesting her restrictions were wrong. “We know that this demonstration is going to come at a cost to people’s health,” Whitmer told reporters after the “Operation Gridlock” protest last month. “We know that when people gather that way without masks, they were within close proximity, they were touching one another, that that’s how COVID-19 spreads,” she said.
She also threatened to continue the lockdown. “So the sad irony here is that the protest is that they don’t like being in this stay home order,” she said, “and they may have just created the need to lengthen it.”