New York Governor, Subways, Antisemitic

New York Governor Considering Mask Ban in NYC Subway, Citing Pro-Palestinian Demonstration Incidents

The mask ban proposal would hold 'common-sense exemptions' for health, cultural, or religious reasons.  

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is considering a face mask ban in the New York City subway system due to increasing concerns of people hiding their identity while committing acts of antisemitism.

During a news conference in Albany on June 13, Hochul said she has been in talks with state lawmakers—including NYC Mayor Eric Adams—about crafting legislation, but details have not been solidified. The proposal would hold “common-sense exemptions” for health, cultural, or religious reasons.  

She said the proposal was influenced by “a group donning masks took over a subway car, scaring riders and chanting things about Hitler and wiping out Jews” on June 10.

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

While the exact incident she refers to is unclear, speculation links it to multiple conflicts during pro-Palestinian demonstrations that same day in Union Square Park. Dozens of rally attendees flooded the subway station, waving flags, and banging drums. On one train, an unmasked man reportedly led a small group in chanting “Raise your hands if you’re a Zionist” to other passengers.

During another incident, a viral video circulated of a man seen telling a group of protestors, “I wish Hitler was still here. He would’ve wiped all you out.”

There was once a state law banning face masks in public, however, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law was reversed in 2020 when masks became mandatory in most settings. With COVID still affecting people’s health, some people have continued to wear masks on the city subway system. 

Regardless of the health factors, including subway air pollution, several civil rights groups like the Civil Liberties Union (CLU), have criticized measures of face mask bans, arguing they are selectively enforced to break up protests as participants often wear them to avoid legal or professional repercussions.

“The Governor’s concerns about masks disguising criminal activity won’t be quelled by banning anonymous peaceful protest,” executive director of the CLU’s New York chapter, Donna Lieberman, said in a statement. “A mask ban would be easily violated by bad actors and, if someone is engaged in unlawful actions, the judgment should be made based on the criminal behavior, not their attire.” 

However, Adams supported the the governor’s moves during an interview.

“Dr. King did not hide his face when he marched and for the things he thought were wrong in the country,” Adams said. “Those civil rights leaders did not hide their faces. They stood up. In contrast to that, the Klan hid their faces.” 

Hochul said she is not blind to some of the complications that would align with a face mask ban but is more concerned about the concerns of public safety. “We understand how complex this issue is, and we’re just listening to people and addressing their needs and taking them very seriously,” she said.