BORO PARK/MIDWOOD – The weather is getting nicer and kids are getting restless staying inside their homes. While public parks are open, playgrounds remain closed and there is no set date when the Mayor is planning to open them. But, some locals are not waiting any longer.
On Sunday, Assembly Member Simcha Eichenstein, Council Member Kalman Yeger, and State Senator Simcha Felder that represent the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of Boro Park, home to very large families, demanded Mayor Bill de Blasio to open the playgrounds. They have had enough they said. Playgrounds were closed to protect children and present the spread of the coronavirus. This morning, the elected officials drilled open the locks to two playgrounds. First Kolbert Playground in Midwood, and then the Dome Playground in Boro Park.
“Individually, each of us exhausted every avenue of diplomacy in our effort to open our playgrounds for the families and children in our city. We advocated sincerely and respectfully, hoping for a willing partner,” a joint statement by the elected officials read. “On Sunday we stood here together, surrounded by children and families suffering under an inequitable, nonsensical policy, as they made a heartfelt plea.”
“For the last time, we urged the Mayor to open these gates and clearly stated our intention to unlock them and rightfully return the parks to the children. The people have spoken and they are sick and tired of being ignored,” the statement continued. “With everything going on in the world, why is our Mayor intent on making criminals of mothers and children in need of a safe space to play? If they lock these gates, we will cut them open again tomorrow, because we serve the people. Who do you serve, Mr. Mayor?”
On Monday, another group of Orthodox Jewish men gathered at Middleton Playground in Williamsburg to use bolt cutters to open the park’s doors, the Daily News reported. The City had welded the doors of that playground shut after the locks were cut about 25 times. Afterward, they removed the welding and replaced it with a chain. And on Monday, several community members cut those chains.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was not pleased this morning.
“We’re not going to allow people to take the law into their own hands – it just doesn’t work. So, people are not allowed to open up a playground that’s not yet available to the public – it’s for a reason. Look, I was very sympathetic in the beginning to every parent – as a parent myself – why people wanted to be on those playgrounds. We tried to make it work; it wasn’t working effectively,” he said. “Right now, we’re not going to make a change with the playgrounds until we get to phase two.”
“Now, phase two as everyone knows could be as early as June 22nd. I’ve said, I think it’s going to take a little longer than that just to make sure we’re absolutely certain, but until the order is given the playgrounds are open; people need to stay off the playgrounds, it’s not appropriate to take their own action,” he said. “We’re doing this so that we can get to phase two and beyond.”
“So, I understand people’s frustrations, but if folks act prematurely and that causes the disease to start spreading again, then that’s the kind of thing that will undermine our ability to get to phase two and stay in phase two. So, I know it’s not easy, but people have to understand there’s a reason for these rules; it’s to help us move forward.”
Satmar Headquarters, a blog, Tweeted a video of a Black Lives Matter protest crowd and said, “A SAD TALE OF 2 CITIES! mass gatherings without #SocialDistancing is allowed in Brooklyn but several blocks away parks in Hasidic neighborhoods are being shut not letting children breathe fresh air and sleep away camps are prohibited from opening #KidsLivesMatter #GiveKidsSummer.”
— Satmar Headquarters (@HQSatmar) June 15, 2020
It then Tweeted a video of community members cutting the chain, and said, “DEFYING @NYCMayor by forcibly opening Public parks in Hasidic neighborhoods and letting children breathe fresh air #KidsLivesMatter #GiveKidsSummer.”
This afternoon, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams Tweeted, “I truly get the frustration; but what we’re not going to do is equate fury of people protesting, w/masks, literally for Black life, to the fury of not being able to go to a bar or a playground, w/out masks. The false equivalence again highlights the need for #BlackLivesMatter.”
“With that said we must provide real answers and options for business and spaces to begin the next phase with very real social distancing models. We have to be creative and monitor closely.”
As of now, de Blasio strongly urges kids to stay indoors or play in front of their own homes and not connect with other children around them. And of course, wear masks.
“I understand when parents say, Hey, what are we supposed to do? You know, kids have been cooped up. It’s very difficult, especially for large families. I truly am sympathetic to that. I would say the fact is if a family has, you know, their children playing like in front of their house, for example,” he said, “and sticking to their own family group and not connecting to other kids around them, that’s one of the things a family can do as best they can in a very, very difficult crisis, or obviously keep their own kids indoors to the maximum extent possible.”
“When we get to Phase Two, we will sort out, you know, as we lead into Phase Two, the whole playground issue, and I’m hopeful we’ll be able to open things up, but we’re not there yet.”