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COVID-19 unrest raises questions over NYPD’s handling of Hasidic enclaves

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The unrest in Brooklyn that saw a Hasidic Jewish throng incensed by coronavirus restrictions start a fire and assault photographers without an NYPD response has raised renewed questions about whether the community is policed comparably to others, according to department sources.

Some NYPD sources said that the response is part of a pattern of cops taking it easy on the enclaves at the behest of brass and City Hall, while others disputed that such preferential treatment still exists and noted the scene was nothing compared to rioting that plagued the city over the summer.

“The police department is told ‘hands off’ when it comes to the Jewish neighborhoods. It’s always been that way,” said one high-ranking NYPD insider on Wednesday. “The 66th Precinct [in Borough Park, Brooklyn] was known as ‘Fort Surrender.’ ”

That appeared to be the case Tuesday night in Borough Park, where crowds of mostly unmasked Hasidic men took to the streets hours after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new coronavirus restrictions closing non-essential businesses and limiting capacity at houses of worship in some Brooklyn and Queens areas.

In addition to flouting pandemic precautions and disrupting vehicular traffic as they clogged the streets, members of the group lit a large trash fire and attacked two photographers documenting the spectacle, with both incidents caught on camera.

In one of the assaults, members of the crowd could be heard calling the victim a “snitch” for capturing footage.

The protest in Borough Park last night.
The protest in Borough Park last night.Joe Marino/NYPost

Despite this, the NYPD made no arrests and issued no summonses.

With the latest coronavirus surge tied strongly to predominantly Hasidic communities, Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly vowed enforcement of the rules, but largely failed to follow through.

The NYPD source said that a historic reluctance from City Hall to crack down on the politically powerful Hasidic voting bloc is behind the light approach.

“The mayor speaks from two faces,” the source said. “He doesn’t support the police department going into the community and doing anything.”

Other NYPD sources noted the disparity between how the department responds to situations in the city’s Hasidic enclaves and elsewhere, including predominantly black neighborhoods.

“It’s a tale of two cities when it comes to enforcement of the law and it’s not fair,” said a second source. “There’s no enforcement when it comes to them. But there’s always enforcement when it comes to urban communities.”

While the city has been loathe to hand out mask violations in Hasidic communities, the NYPD’s enforcement of rule was found earlier in the pandemic to disproportionately target racial minorities.

A third police source said that the Hasidic groups are “dealt with a gentle touch” by the cops, which starts with a cozy relationship between department brass and community leaders that doesn’t exist with other factions, such as Black Lives Matter.

“I don’t think they’re going to be anything like BLM. Chiefs would have a sit-down with their [Hasidic] leaders,” the insider said. “They’re always respectful to cops by greeting us and what not.”

But a fourth source, a recently retired Brooklyn supervisor, said that the clout the communities hold with the NYPD isn’t what it once was, and questioned comparisons between Tuesday night’s unrest and rioting that occurred in Manhattan over the summer in response to the Minnesota death of George Floyd.

“How can you compare burning a few fires compared to the full-scale rioting and looting that took place in Manhattan?” the source asked.

That insider said de Blasio and Cuomo need to improve their relationships with the Hasidic communities, rather than resort to crackdowns that are only going to rile them up further.

“In the old days, Mayor [Ed] Koch would have met with the Grand Rebbe and every member of the Hasidic community would have been wearing three masks,” the source cracked.

The protest in Borough Park last night.
Seth Gottfried

A fifth source, also a recently retired supervisor, said that the mere fact that Cuomo signed off on capacity restrictions at synagogues and other houses of worship shows that the Hasidic communities don’t hold the sway they once did.

“That would have never happened in the 80s and 90s when they would have called the mayor and governor direct,” that source said.

But the first source maintained that the preferential treatment is alive and well.

“Everybody has a hard-on in other Brooklyn neighborhoods and they say ‘You don’t do this s–t in Borough Park, you don’t do this s–t in Williamsburg,’ ” the source said referring to another Hasidic stronghold. “They scream and shout, but it never changes.

“All the bosses are told, ‘Don’t issue summonses to their cars.’ They can triple-park every day and you do not give them tickets,” the source continued. “They would come to 1PP [One Police Plaza, NYPD headquarters] with a fistful of tickets and have them voided.

“It’s always hands off with them. They get away with so much s–t that nobody else can.”

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