Governor Is Looking at a NYC Subway Mask Ban

'People should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes,' Kathy Hochul says
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jun 14, 2024 9:07 AM CDT
NY Gov Is Considering a Mask Ban on NYC Subways
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks to reporters at the state Capitol in Albany.   (AP Photo/Hans Pennink, File)

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Thursday that she is considering a ban on face masks in the New York City subway system due to concerns about people shielding their identities while committing antisemitic acts. Hochul, a Democrat, said the exact details of the policy are not clear but it would contain "common-sense exemptions" for health, cultural, or religious reasons, the AP reports. Many people concerned about COVID-19 and air pollution routinely wear masks on the subway. Hochul said she was in talks with lawmakers on potentially crafting a bill.

  • At a news conference in Albany, the governor said she was moved to act after "a group donning masks took over a subway car, scaring riders and chanting things about Hitler and wiping out Jews" on Monday night. It was not clear exactly what incident she was referring to, but it could have been a conflation of different episodes related to pro-Palestinian demonstrations that day in Union Square Park.

  • Hundreds of people leaving the rally flooded into a subway station, some waving flags and banging on drums, to get on trains headed downtown. On one train, a man who was not wearing a mask led a small group in chanting "Raise your hands if you're a Zionist" to other passengers, followed by, "This is your chance to get out."
  • "We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior," Hochul said. "My team is working on a solution, but on a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes."

  • New York passed a law banning face masks in public in the 1800s as a response to protests over rent. It was suspended in 2020 by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo as part of a pandemic public health campaign, and masks were also made mandatory for subway riders until September 2022.
  • "Mask bans were originally developed to squash political protests and, like other laws that criminalize people, they will be selectively enforced—used to arrest, doxx, surveil, and silence people of color and protestors the police disagree with," Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement.
  • Hochul acknowledged that reinstating a ban would be complicated. "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.
(More New York City subway stories.)

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