Hochul weighing mask ban on the NYC subway system

June 14, 2024

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Thursday said she is considering banning face masks on the city’s subway system after a rise in anti-Semitic acts. Recently a video circulated on social media showing protestors on a crowded subway car asking any Zionists aboard “to raise their hands,” followed by “this is your chance to get out.” Specific policy details are still unclear, but any mask ban would include exemptions for health, cultural, or religious reasons. The governor said she is currently in talks with lawmakers on the matter.

In 1845, New York established a law that charged anyone “masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration” with loitering. The same law was used to arrest protestors during demonstrations in the Financial District in 2011, as reported by Gothamist. The state repealed the law during the pandemic for public health reasons.

“It was repealed at the time, but I absolutely will go back and take a look at this and see whether it can be restored because it is frightening to people,” Hochul said in an interview on CNN on Thursday.

“You’re sitting on a subway train and someone puts on a mask like this and comes in — you don’t know if they’re going to be committing a crime, they’re going to have a gun, or whether they’re just going to be threatening or intimidating you because you are Jewish, which is exactly what happened the other day,” the governor said. “Absolutely unacceptable in the State of New York.”

Hochul and lawmakers are discussing what enforcing a mask ban would look like, and how they could allow exemptions. The governor has expressed that she wants to see at least a partial ban and believes it will help prevent crime on public transit, according to Gothamist.

Mayor Eric Adams supported the governor’s effort, comparing protestors who conceal their faces to members of the Ku Klux Klan.

“Cowards hide their face,” Adams said, as reported by Gothamist. “Dr. King did not hide his face when he marched and for the things he thought were wrong in the country. Those civil rights leaders did not hide their faces. They stood up. In contrast to that, the Klan hid their faces.”

In a news conference on Thursday, Hochul said that she was moved to propose a ban after seeing a video of “a group donning masks [who] took over a subway car, scaring riders and chanting things about Hitler and wiping out Jews” on Monday night, as reported by AP News.

While it’s unclear which incident she’s referring to, it may be a conflation of one incident captured on video in Union Square Park during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in which a man shouted, “I wish Hitler was still here. He would’ve wiped all you out,” and another video showing protestors on a subway car exclaiming, “Raise your hands if you’re a Zionist” to other passengers, followed by, “This is your chance to get out.”

Amid the pandemic in April 2020, former Gov. Andrew Cuomo put in place a mask mandate on public transit through executive order. In April 2022, despite mask mandates being lifted in other major cities across the country and the federal government striking down the national mask mandate on airplanes, trains, and other forms of mass transit, the MTA decided to maintain its mandate on the city’s public transit system.

In September 2022, the state finally lifted its mask mandate, making face coverings optional for riders traveling on public transit.


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  1. K

    With another pandemic on its way, and a resurgence in the current pandemic, I bet banning masks won’t have any impact. NYC did fine during COVID before masks and the vaccine, right?

    Luckily, subways are known for their excellent airflow!