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After Months of Protests, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Resigns with Over Three Years Left in Her Term

August 7, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

Ten months after animal rights and public health advocates launched a campaign to hold her accountable for failing to enforce health codes violated during an annual ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett resigned, announcing that she is moving to Boston to teach at Harvard.  Dr. Bassett is vacating her position just eight months into a four year term as NYC’s top doctor.  The announcement comes on the heels of several protests inside of the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health.

“Commissioner Bassett’s decision to resign and wash her hands of this scandal does nothing to help the tens of thousands of people and animals who she betrayed while in office,” said Nathan Semmel, an organizer in the campaign. “She had the power and legal obligation to stop a public massacre of baby birds that exposes some of NYC’s poorest residents to infectious diseases, but she chose to prioritize politics over public health. Quitting her post and moving 200 miles away from us doesn’t make her any less accountable.”

In October, 2017, NYC activists began to protest Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice that takes place before Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. From October 2017 to July 2018, the activists disrupted six of her public speaking engagements and staged five protests in the lobby of the NYC Department of Health (DOH). The activists allege that Dr. Bassett is turning a blind eye to the health code violations because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who practice the ritual represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

During Kaporos, an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens are intensively confined in crates without food or water for up to several days before being slaughtered and discarded. Many die of starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual takes place. A toxicology reported submitted to the court as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the DOH states that the ritual poses a risk to public health in the neighborhoods where it takes place. While Commissioner Bassett has not publicly disputed the findings from the toxicology report or the activists’ and lawyers’ claims about the health code violations, she has issued a public statement asserting that “there remains no evidence that the use of chickens for Kaporos poses a significant risk to human health.”

Activists protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett over her ongoing refusal to ban a mass animal sacrifice that violates at least seven public health codes.

In anticipation of a protest during a talk that she was giving at the Boston University School of Public Health, Dr. Bassett attempted to defend her inaction on the grounds that her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio, would not allow it:  “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 public and 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. I can’t always be at the barricades!”

“Dirty politics does not give Dr. Bassett a free pass to ignore a ritual that violates health codes, puts New Yorkers at risk of infectious disease and terrorizes baby animals,” said Donny Moss. “If Mayor de Blasio is instructing her to turn a blind eye, then it is her legal and moral duty to push back and assert her authority has NYC’s health czar.”


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Animal Rights and Public Health Advocates Disrupt NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Over Ritual Sacrifice

July 1, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

As NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett began delivering remarks at a forum about charitable giving on July 21st, activists angered by her refusal to enforce health codes violated during an animal sacrifice shut down her talk.  This was the fifth time that activists have disrupted Commissioner Bassett over her support of Kaporos, a religious ritual during which ultra-Orthodox Jews in New York City swing an estimated 60,000 six-week old chickens around their heads and slaughter them, contaminating the streets and sewers with their blood, body parts, feathers and feces.

“How can Commissioner Bassett make a presentation in good conscience about taking care of the less fortunate when she’s endangering the health of some of NYC’s most vulnerable residents?” asked Nathan Semmel, one of the organizers of the disruption. “We know we can’t ask Dr. Bassett to align her behavior with the values she publicly espouses, but we can demand that she enforce the law.”

A dozen animal rights and public health advocates disrupt NYC Health Commissioner over her refusal to enforce health codes violated during a mass animal sacrifice on public streets.

The most recent protest comes on the heels of news about the spread of bird flu. On June 15th, Newsweek reported that The Centers for Disease Control said the current strain of avian influenza has “the greatest potential to cause a pandemic of all human viruses.”  If the flu spreads to the United States, New Yorkers will be particularly vulnerable because tens of thousands of city residents come into contact with the sick and dying chickens who are stacked in crates on the streets for several days leading up to the Kaporos ritual.

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett refuses to acknowledge a toxicology report which includes avian flu as one of many health risks associated with the ritual sacrifice Kaporos (center photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

Sources inside the administration say that Commissioner Bassett is refusing to enforce the health laws because the ultra-Orthodox Jews who violate them represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio.

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett refuses to acknowledge the multiple health codes are violated during a mass sacrifice of 60,000 six week old chickens on public streets.

“Not only does Dr. Bassett refuse to enforce the health codes, but she also refuses to acknowledge a toxicology report which unequivocally states that the violations jeopardize the public health by exposing New Yorkers to e-coli, salmonella, avian flu and many other pathogens and toxins,” said Jessica Hollander, who participated in the protest.  “Her decision to put politics ahead of public health will come back to haunt her if a disease outbreak occurs because she has been warned by experts that the illegal animal sacrifice poses serious health risks.”

Multiple health codes are violated during Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice, but NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett turns a blind eye because the practitioners represent a powerful voting bloc.


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At Press Conference, Advocates Demand That NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Enforce the Law

June 19, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

As part of an ongoing campaign to shut down a ritual animal sacrifice that violates multiple health codes, dozens of activists with The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos held a press conference at the headquarters of the NYC Department of Health (DOH) on June 6th to demand that Commissioner Mary Bassett enforce the law. NY1 News covered the story.

The press conference, which was held during the lunchtime rush, attracted the attention of hundreds of city employees. While many expressed their support with a “thumbs up,” others averted their eyes.  According to supporters at the DOH, city employees refer to the protesters as “the chicken people.”

During Kaporos in NYC, an estimated 60,000 chickens are slaughtered, and their blood and body parts contaminate the streets, jeopardizing the public health.

In October 2017, animal rights and public health advocates launched a campaign targeting the Commissioner Bassett after she defended the use of live chickens based on the absence of “disease signals” without acknowledging the health code violations or the warnings outlined in a toxicology report that was submitted into evidence as part of an ongoing lawsuit against the Dept. of Health.  Activists say that, to date, Commissioner Bassett has neither refuted the findings of the toxicology report nor challenged the activists’ assertion that multiple health codes are violated.

The lawsuit filed by attorney Nora Marino on behalf of residents in the neighborhoods most affected by the animal slaughter is pending in the Court of Appeals, which is NY State’s highest court.

The Alliance to End Chickens as Kaporos has been attempting to engage with Commissioner Bassett for the past several years.  Her refusal to meet with this organization or address the Kaporos controversy triggered grass roots animal rights activists to begin disrupting Commissioner Bassett at her public speaking engagements. Since October, 2017, they have disrupted four of her presentations. In three cases, she left the venue.

Sources inside the administration say that Commissioner Bassett is refusing to enforce the health laws because the ultra-orthodox Jews who violate them represent a powerful voting bloc that helped to elect her boss, NYC Mayor Bill De Blasio. In fact, Commissioner Bassett publicly addressed her need to prioritize politics ahead over public health in an interview with the Boston University School of Public Health.

Commissioner Bassett admits that she must sometimes prioritize politics ahead of public health.

During the ritual, called 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.

NYC Health Commissioner ignores the multiple health code violations that take place during Kaporos.


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Protest Triggers NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett To Forfeit Presentation at Cornell

May 9, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

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:

The Cornell Sun reports on protest targeting NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett

“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.

Photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography

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.”

Activists shut down NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett’s presentation at Cornell University over her refusal to enforce health codes violated during Kaporos, a ritual animal sacrifice.

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.

Activist shut down presentation of Oxiris Barbot, First Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Health.

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.

Sandro Galea, Dean of Boston University’s School of Public Health, ignored letters from public health and animal rights advocates

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.

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett banned yoga with baby goats but allows mass slaughter of baby animals on public streets

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.”

Your Turn

Please sign the Care2 petition demanding that NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett enforces the health codes.


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Activists Disrupt NYC Deputy Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot Over Animal Sacrifice

April 26, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

As NYC’s First Deputy Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot was delivering the opening remarks at a public health conference in Manhattan, over twenty animal rights and public health advocates disrupted the event until she forfeited her presentation and left the building. The protest was staged as part of an ongoing campaign to compel the NYC’s Department of Health (DOH) to enforce the multiple health codes violated during an annual religious animal sacrifice.

“Dr. Barbot and her boss, Commissioner Mary Bassett, routinely describe themselves as social justice advocates, yet they ignore an atrocity that they have the power to stop,” said Rachel Levy, an activist who has participated in many of the protests. “As far as the community is concerned, Dr. Barbot and all of the other deputy health commissioners are complicit in this illegal massacre of six week old animals.”

Some of the health codes violated during the ritual animal sacrifice Kaporos

Before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, certain sects of Orthodox Jews recite a prayer to transfer their sins to a live chicken. While reciting the prayer, practitioners of the ritual, which is called Kaporos, swing a chicken around their heads three times and then bring it to a shochet, or religious slaughterer, who slices her throat and bleeds her out into the street in an upside down traffic cone.

“These chickens know nothing but pain, neglect and deprivation during their six weeks of life on a factory farm, but their last few days are probably the worst, as they are intensively confined in crates on the streets of Brooklyn with no food or water,” said Roberto Bonelli from the animal rights group Animals Battalion.

During Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement, certain sects of ultra-Orthodox Jews swing chickens around their heads while saying a prayer to transfer their sins to the animal.

In response to the protests and media inquiries, the DOH issued the following public statement about Kaporos: “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 statement does not address the health code violations or a toxicology report commissioned by the affected communities which explicitly warns the city of the risks that Kaporos poses to the public.

After Kaporos practitioners swing the chickens in the air by their wings, they slice their throats in pop-up slaughterhouses erected on public streets

“The city ignores the violations and aids and abets in the mass killing because the communities that partake in this ritual represent a powerful voting bloc,” said Donny Moss, a grass roots animal rights organizer in NYC. “Oxiris Barbot and Mary Bassett are putting politics ahead of public health, leaving activists no choice but to protest on behalf of the human and animal victims of their dereliction of duty.”


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