As NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett began delivering remarks at a forum about charitable giving, activists angered by her refusal to enforce health codes violated during an animal sacrifice shut down her talk. This was the fifth time that activists have disrupted Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a religious ritual during which ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads and slaughter them, contaminating the streets and sewers with their blood, body parts, feathers and feces.
“How can Commissioner Bassett make a presentation in good conscience about taking care of the less fortunate when she’s endangering the health of some of NYC’s most vulnerable residents?” asked Nathan Semmel, one of the organizers of the disruption. “We know we can’t ask Dr. Bassett to align her behavior with the values she publicly espouses, but we can demand that she enforce the law.”
The most recent protest comes on the heels of news about the spread of bird flu. On June 15th, Newsweek reported that The Centers for Disease Control said the current strain of avian influenza has “the greatest potential to cause a pandemic of all human viruses.” If the flu spreads to the United States, New Yorkers will be particularly vulnerable because tens of thousands of city residents come into contact with the sick and dying chickens who are stacked in crates on the streets for several days leading up to the Kaporos ritual.
Sources inside the administration say that Commissioner Bassett is refusing to enforce the health laws because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who violate them represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Not only does Dr. Bassett refuse to enforce the health codes, but she also refuses to acknowledge a toxicology report which unequivocally states that the violations jeopardize the public health by exposing New Yorkers to e-coli, salmonella, avian flu and many other pathogens and toxins,” said Jessica Hollander, who participated in the protest. “Her decision to put politics ahead of public health will come back to haunt her if a disease outbreak occurs because she has been warned by experts that the illegal animal sacrifice poses serious health risks.”