Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Protested Over Religious Animal Sacrifice

March 12, 2018 by 1 comment


The News

As part of a growing campaign to compel NYC’s Health Commissioner Mary Bassett to ban a religious animal sacrifice that violates seven public health codes, over twenty activists staged a 45-minute disruption in the lobby of the Department of Health’s (DOH) headquarters as several thousand city employees entered the building during the morning rush.

During a similar disruption that took place two weeks earlier, DOH employees informed the activists that the protest could be heard throughout the building and was the subject of conversation among city employees. This feedback, coupled with a desire to ensure that all DOH employees are informed of their employer’s negligence, triggered activists to return for the second disruption.

Photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography

“The system is broken,” said Jessica Hollander, an activist who participated in the protest. “What does it is say about our city government when New Yorkers are left with no choice but to stage a ‘die-in’ on the floor of the Department of Health to compel the agency to enforce its own regulations?”

A reporter and photographer from the NY Daily News attended and reported on the protest in an article entitled, “Protesters Slam Health Department, Implore City to Ban Jewish Chicken Slaughter Ritual.”

Protest coverage in the NY Daily News

In a statement provided to the Daily News for the article, the DOH dug in its heels, stating, “We have not found Kaporos to be a significant public health threat — our surveillance has shown no increase in illness — and this ritual is an important practice for some Orthodox Jews.”  The DOH did not address the health code violations or the toxicology report which explicitly warns the city of the risks that Kaporos poses to the public.

Following is an excerpt from a 25 page affidavit submitted by Dr. Michael McCabe to the court in connection with an ongoing lawsuit about Kaporos:  “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.” 

“During the week when the animals are killed, the streets in my neighborhood become a giant petri dish of pathogens and toxins that expose not only the practitioners to disease but also members of the general public,” said Rina Deych, a 62 year old nurse who lives in Brooklyn. “I can’t walk my grandson around my own neighborhood because there’s a makeshift slaughterhouse on every other block and chicken body parts in the streets.”

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. 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 and sidewalks, which contaminates public spaces with blood, body parts and feces.

“We are not asking Commissioner Bassett to ban Kaporos,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney who participated in the protest. “We are merely asking her to prohibit the use of live animals. Thousands of Jews around the world perform Kaporos by swinging coins around their heads and then donating the money to charity. There’s nothing in religious scripture that mentions, much less mandates, the use of live chickens.”

The 45-minute disruption at the Department of Health, which was staged during the morning rush hour, was the fifth action taken by activists to compel the city agency to enforce its own regulations.

Activists protest in the lobby of the NYC Department of Health during the morning rush to pressure the Commissioner to ban the use of live chickens during a religious ritual called Kaporos (photo: NY Daily News)

In 2015, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents sued the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. The case centers on whether or not courts can mandate that the police enforce the laws that are violated during Kaporos. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the police are not only ignoring the violations, but they are also “aiding and abetting” in the crimes by providing the ritual practitioners with flood lights, barricades, security and the orange cones in which the chickens are bled out. 


Anti-Kaporos Activists Escalate Campaign Targeting NYC Health Czar Mary Bassett

March 2, 2018 by 3 comments


The News

As part of an ongoing campaign to compel New York City to shut down a religious animal sacrifice called Kaporos that takes the lives of 60,000 animals each year, activists staged an evening protest at the home the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Health (DOH), Dr. Mary Bassett, who has refused to enforce the seven public health codes that are violated during the ritual.

This was the third protest targeting Dr. Bassett, who has publicly defended the ritual, saying “there is no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”  Her assertion contradicts the findings of an 24-page toxicology report which states that Kaporos with chickens exposes NYC residents to bacteria and viral disease. In her limited communications with activists, Dr. Bassett has not addressed the fact that health codes are broken.

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett turns a blind eye to seven health code violations. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

“Mary Bassett knows that sacrificing animals on a mass scale on public streets endangers the health of New Yorkers,” said Nathan Semmel, an organizer in the campaign to shut down Kaporos. “We can only speculate that she is prioritizing politics over public health because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who commit these atrocities represent one of NYC’s most powerful voting blocs.”

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 and stuffed into garbage bags which are hauled away by the NYC Dept. of Sanitation.

During the Kaporos ritual, practitioners say a prayer to transfer their sins to a chicken before the Jewish day of atonement, Yom Kippur

Among the many reasons why activists are working to shut down the ritual is the fact that tens of thousands of chickens are intensively confined in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes. In 2017, activists found garbage bags stuffed with thousands of chickens who died from exposure before they were even used in the ritual.

After their throats are sliced, the chickens are bled out in cones. Activists have documented hundreds of bleeding chickens jumping out of the cones. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

The evening protest at Dr. Bassett’s home came on the heels of three other protests –– one during the day at her home and around her neighborhood; one during a presentation she made at Columbia University; and one in the lobby of the headquarters of the DOH. Activists have vowed to continue disrupting business as usual until the DOH enforces the public health codes.


Activists Occupy Lobby of NYC Dept. of Health to Protest Commissioner Mary Bassett

February 26, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

Chanting “Mary Bassett: Do Your Job,” approximately 25 activists raced into the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health (DOH) and staged a protest in the lobby to demand that DOH Commissioner Mary Bassett enforce the seven public health codes violated during Kaporos, a ritual sacrifice during which an estimated 60,000 chickens are illegally slaughtered on public streets. Hundreds of DOH employees witnessed the disruption, which took place during the afternoon rush hour.

“We want DOH employees to know that, by turning a blind eye to the health code violations, Mary Bassett is endangering the health of New Yorkers, who are needlessly exposed to the many pathogens and toxins that are spread when farm animals are slaughtered in the streets,” said Nathan Semmel, an advocate working to end the use of chickens during Kaporos.

Activists protest Dr. Mary Bassett, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept of Health, over her refusal to enforce the 7 health codes violated during an annual ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos.

The protest in the lobby of the DOH was the third specifically targeting Dr. Bassett, who, during a meeting with advocates and in a subsequent letter, rejected an independent toxicology report outlining the public health risks associated with the massacre: “There remains no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”  In the letter,  Dr. Bassett made no mention of seven public health codes that are violated.

Advocates argue that, if Mary Bassett enforced the public health codes, then the ritual sacrifice of 60,000 chickens would have to be banned.

During the first protest, activists disrupted Dr. Bassett while she made a presentation at Columbia University.

The second protest was staged at her home in Upper Manhattan and at the nearby farmer’s market. “We want Dr. Bassett’s colleagues and neighbors to know not only that she is not doing her job but also that she is misrepresenting herself as an advocate for social justice,” said Jessica Hollander, an animal rights activist in NYC. “If she really cared about justice, Dr. Bassett would use her power to shut down – not defend – this illegal and horrific massacre.”

Activists speculate that Dr. Bassett and other city officials allow Kaporos to continue, in spite of the fact that it is illegal, because ultra-Orthodox Jews represent a powerful voting bloc.


Activists Protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Over Illegal Animal Massacre

February 13, 2018 by 5 comments


The News

Over 50 animal rights activists staged a protest at the Manhattan home of Dr. Mary Bassett, the Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health, over her ongoing refusal to enforce the seven health codes violated during a religious ritual sacrifice called Kaporos. During the ritual, ultra-Orthodox Jews swing 60,000 chickens around their heads and then slice their throats in pop-up slaughterhouses on public streets. Practitioners perform the ritual to transfer their sins to the animal before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement.

The activists decided to protest in front of Dr. Bassett’s home after she sent organizers a letter dismissing the evidence they provided demonstrating that the ritual violates public health codes: “Her tone-deaf response sent us a strong message that we are not going to win the battle to shut down this illegal and unsafe practice based on the merits of the issue,” said Nathan Semmel, one of the protest organizers. “Dr. Bassett has therefore left us with no choice but to disrupt business as usual until she enforces the law.”

In a letter to advocates, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett dismisses the evidence proving that killing 60,000 animals on public sidewalks poses a public health risk to New Yorkers.

The protest at Bassett’s home, which attracted the attention of hundreds of area residents, was staged three months after a smaller group of activists disrupted a presentation she was making at Columbia University over her refusal to meet with them about the issue. In order to end the disruption and resume her talk, Dr. Bassett agreed to meet in person with the activists.

During the meeting with advocates and in a subsequent letter, Dr. Bassett rejected the independent toxicology report outlining the catastrophic public health risks associated with the ritual massacre: “There remains no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”

In her follow up letter, Dr. Bassett also refused to address the seven public health codes that are violated during Kaporos. “Her decision to ignore the laws that her department is charged with enforcing speaks volumes about the political power wielded by the communities that engage in the illegal animal sacrifice,” said Jessica Hollander, a NYC-based activist. “Ultra-orthodox Jews deliver tens of thousands of votes in a bloc, so elected officials, including Bassett’s boss Mayor Bill de Blasio, turn a blind eye to the crimes.”

Body parts and blood contaminate NYC sidewalks and streets for several days during and after Kaporos

While many of the activists working to end the ritual sacrifice are motivated by the public health risks, others are focused on the cruelty. The chickens are intensively confined in crates, stacked one one top of the other, for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes. In 2017, thousands of chickens died from hunger, thirst and heat exhaustion before the ritual even took place. Activists documented the illegal neglect by taking video footage of garbage bags filled with dead chickens whose throats had not been sliced because they weren’t used in the ritual.

NYC residents for the clean up of an illegal religious ritual sacrifice called Kaporos, which is performed each year before Yom Kippur

“While we know that Dr. Bassett isn’t charged with enforcing animal cruelty laws, we have been disappointed by her lack of compassion for the victims, especially in light of her background as a social justice advocate,” said Donny Moss, a grass roots animal rights campaigner in NYC. “Several of our contacts at the Department of Health warned us that she doesn’t care about animals, but we thought that she, like other government officials with whom we have met, would have at the very least been disturbed by the egregious abuses shown in the videos.”

Dr. Mary Bassett refuses to enforce the seven health codes that are violated when ultra-Orthodox Jews kill 60,000 chickens in pop-up slaughterhouses on NYC streets.

In 2015, The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos and 19 NYC residents sued the NYC Department of Health and the NYPD for failing to enforce the 15 public health, sanitation and anti-cruelty laws and regulations that are violated during Kaporos. 

NY State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, is expected to hear the case in the Spring of 2018.

The case centers on whether or not courts can mandate that the police enforce the laws that are violated during Kaporos. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the police are not only ignoring the violations, but they are also “aiding and abetting” in the crimes by providing the ritual practitioners with flood lights, barricades, security and the orange cones in which the chickens are bled out. 

The chickens who are not immediately killed when their throats are sliced jump out of the orange cones where they are tossed to be bled out. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

With respect to Commissioner Bassett’s claim that “We have no disease signals associated with this practice,” Nora Constance Marino, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, noted the evidence to the contrary.  “We submitted an affidavit from a respected toxicologist to the court.  The Dept. of Heath should have read it.  It cites the ‘likelihood that the influx of thousands of chickens into the subject locations for Kaporos activities likely carries with it the influx of an exceedingly high level of bacteria (e.g., Salmonella, Campylobacter, etc.) as well as other pathogens, toxins and bio-hazards.’  Clearly, there are health risks.”

The case is pending in New York’s Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court.


Activists Rescue Chicken From Slaughterhouse in Memory of Jill Phipps

February 12, 2018 by 2 comments


The News

Jill Phipps, the British animal rights activist who was killed while blocking a trailer transporting veal calves, was remembered by animal rights activists around the world who held protests at slaughterhouses in her memory.

In New York City, activists marched through Astoria, Queens, to a slaughterhouse and staged a silent vigil at the entrance. Inside, hundreds of chickens stacked in crates were being killed, butchered and sold. With the help of a few determined activists, one chicken made it out alive and is living in peace at a sanctuary for rescued farm animals. The activists named her Jill.

Animal rights activists rescued a chicken from a slaughterhouse during a protest staged in memory of British animal rights campaigner, Jill Phipps

The life and advocacy of Jill Phipps, who died fighting for animal liberation when she was just 31 years old, is documented in the 40 minute film, Death of an Animal Activist: