New York Governor Pitches Dangerous Idea to Crack Down on Protests

New York Governor Kathy Hochul is bringing back a dangerous idea to crack down on pro-Palestine protests: a mask ban to rat out protesters.

Speaking with CNN’s Laura Coates in a softball interview Wednesday night, Hochul disseminated debunked disinformation about two recent pro-Palestine protests and floated a return to the state’s mask ban ordinance. The ban was previously enforced to quash the Ku Klux Klan and repealed in 2020 to accommodate protections against the Covid-19 pandemic. Hochul claimed the presence of masks—not antisemitic rhetoric or actions themselves, just people wearing masks—was “frightening.”

“There was a ban on masks before the pandemic, that you couldn’t have face coverings that didn’t serve a purpose. For example, a surgical mask for someone who is elderly or ill—the pandemic removed that from our state law. It was repealed at the time, but I absolutely will go back and take a look at this and see whether it can be restored because it is frightening to people,” said Hochul.

More frightening, many noted, is becoming sick with a highly contagious disease just so your local lawmakers can score political points. Hochul’s comment was met with immediate fury by disability rights advocates.

Tweet screenshot Dr. Lucky Tran: Earlier this week, @GovKathyHochul issued a message to New Yorkers, telling them to be "Air Quality Aware." Yet also in the last week, the Governor halted congestion pricing, and stated she is looking into banning masks. This is absolutely hypocritical.

“Does that mean it will have a STRONG MEDICAL EXEMPTION? Or would it be a half-assed partial health exemption like NC republicans did? VERY UNCLEAR,” epidemiologist Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding wrote on X (formerly Twitter). Other proponents for masking as a public health tool also spoke out, with calls to flood Hochul’s contact lines to advocate against the prospective policy circulating widely as of Thursday afternoon.

Tweet Screenshot COVID Advocacy NY: NY ACTION ALERT: @GovKathyHochul said on CNN that she is considering banning masks in NY. We need to all speak out against this! Please contact Gov Hochul! Call: 518-474-8390 (press 1 to leave a message, press 2 to speak to a person) Write: screenshot Julie S. Lam: TAs an immunocompromised @MTA rider & frequent flyer in NY, I #MaskUp for my health and to protect others from COVID, flu and other airborne diseases. I lost 2 friends to COVID. @GovKathyHochul please make sure that you won’t hurt New York by banning a lifesaving mitigation tool!Tweet screenshot Mike Hoerger, PhD MSCR MBA: As a clinician scientist licensed in New York, we need more health professionals advocating for the right of individuals to #mask to protect their safety from airborne infectious disease. No better place to mask than when using the @MTA !Tweet screenshot Nicole Lee Schroeder, PhD: This is Ugly Laws, eugenics-centric bullshit. Disabled people have the right to exist safely in public spaces. I don't know how we're supposed to survive. 1/3

Hochul’s interest in reinstating the state’s mask ban has followed other states working to repress pro-Palestine protests—where people frequently obscure their faces to protect against chronic harassment, not to embolden criminality.