Animal rights and public health advocates from several cities in New York state traveled to Ithaca to shut down a presentation being delivered by NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett at Cornell University. The activists have staged four similar disruptions demanding that Dr. Bassett enforce the multiple health codes violated during an annual ritual sacrifice that takes the lives of 60,000 animals; contaminates public streets with their blood and body parts; and jeopardizes the health of the people who live in the neighborhoods where the mass slaughter takes place.
The Cornell Sun wrote an extensive story about the disruption:
“Dr. Bassett turns a blind eye to the egregious health code violations because the practitioners of the ritual represent a powerful voting bloc that helped elect her boss, Mayor Bill de Blasio,” said Jessica Hollander, a NYC activist who participated in the protest. “We can’t stand by silently while politics needlessly compromises public health and subjects tens of thousands of animals to starvation, thirst, physical violence and death.” The chickens are held in small crates with no food or water for several days before they are swung in the air and slaughtered on the street as part of the Kaporos ritual.
In an interview with Boston University’s School of Public Health, Dr. Bassett acknowledged the dilemma that she faces as a public health official operating in a political environment: “Those of us who work in government face the reality of the fact that the people who appoint us have to go back . . . to the ballot box to be reappointed, so there’s always going to be a need for advocacy from people outside of government. For someone who is passionately committed to many issues embraced by advocates, it can be difficult to acknowledge the role that I play as a political appointee.”
Unsatisfied with Dr. Bassett’s refusal to enforce the health codes, activists have begun targeting her deputy commissioners, arguing that their silence makes them complicit in the illegal mass slaughter. In March and April, they disrupted the public speaking engagements of Assistant Commissioner Oni Blackstock and First Deputy Commissioner Oxiris Barbot.
The activists are also targeting the decision makers at institutions that invite Commissioner Bassett to speak. After Sandro Galea, the Dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, failed to respond to two letters asking that he rescind Dr. Bassett’s invitation to speak at a public health forum, the activists accused him of being complicit.
During Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jews swing live chickens around their heads in a symbolic transfer of their sins to the animals prior to the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur. After the ritual, the chickens are killed in pop-up slaughterhouses erected without permits on public streets. While most of the dead and dying chickens are stuffed into garbage bags and hauled away by the NYC Dept. of Sanitation, many end up in the streets, on the sidewalks and in the sewers.
In a 25-page affidavit submitted to the court in connection with an ongoing lawsuit about Kaporos, toxicologist Dr. Michael McCabe stated that the risks of the mass slaughter to public health are potentially catastrophic: “The high levels of total coliform bacteria and E. coli present confirm that the Kaporos activities produce unsanitary conditions in . . . public spaces . . .. It is my opinion with a reasonable degree of toxicology, immunology and environmental health sciences certainty, that based on the evidence set forth . . . that the Kaporos activities taking place in the subject locations as described constitute a dangerous condition and thereby pose a significant public health hazard and could be catastrophic.”
Please sign the Care2 petition demanding that NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett enforces the health codes.