Gov. Hochul mulls NYC subway face mask ban over antisemitic incidents.

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Governor Kathy Hochul announced on Thursday her consideration of a ban on face masks in the New York City subway system, citing concerns about individuals using masks to conceal their identities while committing antisemitic acts. Hochul, a Democrat, indicated that while the specifics of the policy are yet to be finalized, it would include “common-sense exemptions” for health, cultural, or religious reasons. Many subway riders wear masks due to concerns about COVID-19 and air pollution.

Hochul revealed she is in discussions with lawmakers to potentially draft legislation on this matter. At a news conference in Albany, she expressed her motivation to act following an incident where a group wearing masks reportedly took control of a subway car, causing alarm among passengers and making offensive chants about Hitler and targeting Jews on Monday night.

The exact incident Hochul referenced appeared to be a combination of various episodes related to pro-Palestinian demonstrations in Union Square Park that day. After a rally, hundreds of people streamed into a subway station, some carrying flags and making noise with drums, boarding trains heading downtown. On one train, a man without a mask led a group in chants like “Raise your hands if you’re a Zionist” and urged others to leave.

Social media circulated a video of an earlier confrontation in Union Square, where an unmasked man was recorded shouting, “I wish Hitler was still here. He would’ve wiped all you out.” It was unclear if he was connected to the protest or who his remarks were directed towards, though a group waving Israeli flags was present in the park.

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Hochul stated firmly. “My team is actively working on a solution. On a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

Historically, New York had banned face masks in public during the 1800s in response to rent protests. This law was suspended by former Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2020 as part of a public health campaign amid the pandemic, and masks were required for subway riders until September 2022.

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