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Mayor Defends Criticism Of Brooklyn Rabbi's Funeral, Says Large Gatherings Put Lives At Risk

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- New York City's mayor and police commissioner had strong words for thousands of people who gathered for a rabbi's funeral on Tuesday night in Brooklyn.

"The notion that people would gather in large numbers and, even if they didn't mean to, would spread a disease that will kill other members of the community, it's just unacceptable to me," Mayor Bill de Blasio said during Wednesday's COVID-19 briefing. "So we have to do something different. We have to break out of whatever we thought was normal in the past, because these are not normal times.

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"We are not going to be allowing these kind of gatherings -- in any community," he added.

The mayor said it was the largest gathering he's seen violating the social distancing orders since the coronavirus pandemic began.


NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea estimated several thousand people packed the area along Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.

"As a department, as a city, we've been through a lot already -- members that have gotten sick, members that have given their life, whether it's in the health field, certainly in the police department. Make no mistake, this large gathering, such as this, is putting members of my department at risk," said Shea. "It cannot happen and it will not happen, and it's going to be met with very stern, as it was last night, immediately being broken up and stern consequences."

Police eventually dispersed the crowd and issued 12 summonses.

"We need community leaders to stand beside us," Shea added. "We cannot have people unnecessarily being exposed to a disease that is having catastrophic effects on our membership and, really, New Yorkers as a whole."

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Later Tuesday night, de Blasio tweeted a message "to the Jewish community, and all communities," saying "the time for warnings has passed."

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De Blasio comments drew criticism from City Councilman Chaim Deutsch, who accused the mayor of stereotyping and inviting antisemitism.

CBS2's political reporter Marcia Kramer asked De Blasio about singling out the Jewish community.

"If you saw anger and frustration, you're right. I spoke out of real distress that people's lives were in danger before my eyes, and I was not going to tolerate it," he replied.

He said his message was meant for all communities.

"It was also to be clear that what I saw I had not seen anywhere else, and I was trying to be honest about the fact this is a problem that people have to come to grips with and deal with," he added. "Or else, people in the community will die."

The mayor said his comments were made with "tough love" and added Antisemitism will never be tolerated.

"There was two funerals last weekend for members of the NYPD. We would normally have probably tens of thousands of people at that funeral. We had a handful," said Shea. "People have to be accountable for their own actions, regardless of what neighborhood, what ethnicity, where they come from."

Concern over them mayor's comments came from a broad spectrum of the Jewish community.

"What the mayor did was absolutely outrageous, unacceptable blaming the entire Jewish community," said Dov Hikind. "He blamed everyone everywhere."

The Jewish Community Relations Council said in a statement: "This was a single event, planned by one congregation... (and) should not negatively reflect... on the entire Jewish community. With anti-semitism rolling around the world, words matter."

"I'm always concerned, as everyone is, that sometimes when we single out one single group or one small segment, that will be used to tarnish an entire community," said Rabbi Joseph Potasnik of the New York Board of Rabbis. "That will be used as a basis for attacking a community."

Patasnik said that the mayor has been a friend of the Jewish community and that he did apologize.

Some saw the apology as limited.

"In my passion and in my emotion, if I said something in any way that was hurtful, I'm sorry about that," he said during his Wednesday COVID-19 briefing. "That was not my intention, but I also want to be clear I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying we're going to deal with it very very aggressively."

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