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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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Absence of NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Didn’t Stop Activists From Protesting Her Event

April 3, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett didn’t show up to deliver the opening remarks at a Women’s Health Summit in Brooklyn, but that didn’t stop 20 activists from disrupting her stand-in after Bassett’s pre-recorded video greeting was played for attendees.

The activists disrupted the summit over Commissioner Bassett’s ongoing refusal to enforce the seven public health codes violated during an annual ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos during which 60,000 chickens are swung in the air by their fragile wings and killed in illegal pop-up slaughterhouses on public streets. The blood, body parts and feces of thousands of dead and dying chickens contaminate the streets in several Brooklyn neighborhoods for up to a week each year.

Public health and animal rights activists join forces to protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett over her refusal to shut down an illegal animal sacrifice called Kaporos

“We are so desperate for Commissioner Bassett to shut down this illegal and barbaric massacre that we are willing to protest any event sponsored by NYC Department of Health, even if Bassett doesn’t show up for fear of protests,” said Nicole Fernandez, a Brooklyn-based health care provider who participated in the disruption at the Women’s Health Summit.

Two dozen women protest NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett at a Women’s Health Summit, demanding that she enforce public health codes around ritual animal sacrifice

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

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

While many New Yorkers working on this effort are motivated by the public health risks, others are motivated by the animal cruelty. “I joined the fight because, in 2017, I watched helplessly as thousands of chickens in cramped crates died a slow and agonizing death from starvation and thirst,” said Jaylene Lopez, a Brooklyn native. “I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do everything in my power to stop this atrocity from happening again.”

The NY Daily News reports on a protest targeting NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett in the lobby of the Department of Health headquarters in Queens


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NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Abandons Presentation During Animal Sacrifice Protest

March 29, 2018 by Leave a Comment


The News

As 25 activists stormed into the New York Academy of Medicine to disrupt a presentation she was making, NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett collected her coat and exited the building, leaving event organizers and attendees visibly stunned.  This was the third time in recent months that activists have shut down one of Mary Bassett’s presentations.

The activists are protesting Commissioner Bassett over her refusal to enforce the seven or more public health codes that are broken during a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos. During Kaporos, ultra-Orthodox Jews recite a prayer to transfer their sins to live chickens before Yom Kippur, the Jewish day of atonement. While reciting the prayer, practitioners swing the chickens around their heads three times by their fragile wings and then bring them to a slaughterer who slices their throats in illegal pop-up slaughterhouses. Each year, practitioners sacrifice an estimated 60,000 chickens, the majority of whom are bled out into the streets before being thrown in the garbage.

Activists shut down NYC Health Commissioner Mary Bassett’s presentation at the NY Academy of Medicine

Some of the activists who participate in the disruptions are motivated by the public health risks because the  streets and sidewalks near their homes are contaminated with the blood, body parts and feces of thousands of dead and dying chickens.

Mary Bassett, the Commissioner of the NYC Dept. of Health, refuses to enforce the the health codes that are violated during a ritual animal sacrifice called Kaporos. (photo: Unparalleled Suffering Photography)

Other activists who are participating in this campaign are motivated by animal cruelty. Before being swung in the air and slaughtered, the chickens are held in crates for up to several days with no food, water or protection from weather extremes. In 2017, activists documented thousands of chickens who died in their crates from starvation, thirst and exposure before the ritual sacrifice took place.

The blood, body parts and feces of thousands of chickens contaminate the streets for several days, which, according to a toxicology report, jeopardizes the health of people who live in the neighborhoods where the ritual sacrifice takes place.

Activists speculate that Commissioner Bassett condones the practice, in spite of the health code violations and a toxicology report outlining the public health risks, because ultra-Orthodox Jews represent one of the most powerful voting blocs in NYC.

Kaporos practitioners swing live chickens in the air by their fragile wings and then slaughter them on public streets

In response to media inquiries, Dr. Bassett’s office puts out the following statement:  “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.”

Activists protest Mary Bassett in front of her home over her refusal to enforce the seven health codes violated during the annual Kaporos massacre of 60,000 chickens in NYC.

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. 

Activists have vowed to escalate the campaign targeting Commissioner Bassett and her staff if she doesn’t enforce her own agency’s regulations.


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