Social Distancing Enforcement During the COVID-19 Pandemic is A Tale of Two Cities in NYC

This past Saturday, May 2nd the weather was finally nice enough for one of my long bike rides which is one of the things I love doing with such gorgeous weather: See our city and document my journey.

Little did I know that on what would be a 30 mile, four borough ride through Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan and The Bronx, that one photo I took would blow up and become viral across not just the city but the nation.

My 30 mile journey through the city this past Saturday, May 2nd.

From The Bronx, to Astoria and Long Island City in Queens, Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Chinatown, and Battery Park City, the streets and parks were pretty full but with mostly everyone in masks and practicing social distancing as best as you can in a crowded city of almost 9 million.

But the scene was shockingly different when I arrived at the Christopher Street Pier in the West Village along the Hudson River.

Privilege in action at the Christopher Street Pier on Saturday, May 2nd at approximately 4:50PM

During normal times, the pier is packed with sunbathers in speedos and bikinis.

But these aren’t normal times and it was PACKED.

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Small and large groups of people sitting together mostly with barely 2 to 3 feet apart. Out of clearly over a 100 people only perhaps 6 or 7 wearing masks.

Besides the utter disregard and disconnect from the crisis we are still living in with over 13,000 confirmed deaths due to the coronavirus pandemic and another probable 5,500 deaths yet to be determined, the glaring difference was that there was zero NYPD enforcement of social distancing.

Meanwhile just a few miles over in the East Village, cops brutalized three Black men for not obeying social distancing.

On Saturday in The East Village, officers arrested a man for disobeying social distancing after dragging him/ Daquan Owens/@PAULY466 via Storyful

I went back yesterday to see if the crowds would return and arrived around 2PM and sure enough it was already starting to fill up.

But this time, because of the outcry that my photo sparked, there were about a dozen NYPD cops patrolling the scene. Eventually most left but about 3 or 4 and instead of encouraging social distancing they just handed out masks to the sunbathers. Not summonses, not dragging them across the street like the NYPD did to the Black men in the East Village.

Yesterday, Sunday May 3rd, NYPD officers were handing out masks.

Not that we want that to happen to them but it just goes to show how differently, how literally BLACK AND WHITE it is to live in NYC.

NYPD at the Christopher Street Pier on Sunday May 3rd handing out masks.

But to Blacks and people of color across the city especially in low income communities, we are not surprised about what happened because that is what life is like in New York City.

The mostly white crowd on the pier hanging out, many are often drinking alcohol in open containers which is a punishable offense but rarely do you see any enforcement.

NYC Parks arrived at the Christopher Street Pier on Sunday, May 3rd to close off half the lawn due to it having been recently reseeded. This resulted in the remaining open area to get crowded. Barely anyone wearing masks again.

Come to The Bronx and not only is there a greater chance of you being ticketed for the offense but you’re also at greater risk of being brutalized by the cops or worse.

So you see, this isn’t shocking to us in The Bronx because we’re used to this tale of two cities. It doesn’t make it right, but we’re used to it.

In The Bronx, we have an infection rate for COVID-19 that is twice that of Manhattan with a mortality rate that is also double that of Manhattan.

Elected officials allow polluting industries to dirty our air in our communities but they would never allow such a thing to happen in the West Village or anywhere in Manhattan for the most part.

This contributes to some of the worst air quality in the city and in turns one of the reasons in the South Bronx the asthma rate is 9x the national average.

In the South Bronx neighborhood of Mott Haven with a median income of just above $21,000 a year and is located in the nation’s poorest congressional district, you have thousands of units of luxury market-rate housing rising across the highway from severely housing projects of NYCHA, New York City’s public housing.

All you have to do is take a trip to our borough to see how pervasive the signs of a tale of two cities are readily apparent in The Bronx and we live it every, single day.

And it’s exhausting.

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Ed García Conde

Ed García Conde is a life-long Bronxite who spends his time documenting the people, places, and things that make the borough a special place in the hopes of dispelling the negative stereotypes associated with The Bronx. His writings are often cited by mainstream media and is often consulted for his expertise on the borough's rich history.