NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Tension was high Wednesday night near a Staten Island bar, as patrons protested after a manager was arrested the night before for refusing to comply with the state’s coronavirus pandemic orange zone restrictions.
Chopper 2 flew over what looked like a block party in Grant City, but instead it was a large protest. Hundreds of people stood shoulder-to-shoulder with American flags and political signs, demonstrating in front of New York City Sheriff’s officers who were guarding the front door of Mac’s Public House, which is owned by Keith McAlarney.
Kevin Smith was mixed in with the group of supporters, voicing his concerns of why he believes this enforcement is wrong.
“There’s people doing heroin and defecating on the subway, and I think that spreads the virus a lot more than some people having a drink on Staten Island,” Smith told CBS2’s Cory James.
“USA, USA…” Supporters showing up to protest & chant outside of Mac’s Public House in #StatenIsland. Many want to eat and drink indoors & don’t believe the establishment should have been shut down after receiving several warnings for violating orders @CBSNewYork pic.twitter.com/iJDDVb1gPn
— Cory James (@CoryJamesTV) December 3, 2020
Some chanted and demanded change in an area that has one of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the city. Some wore face coverings, while others did not.
When asked for a response to people who say that type of behavior is contributing to why businesses and restaurants have to close, one protester responded, “At a certain point, like people on the left like to say, our body, our choice.”
Police said there were no arrests and no summonses were issued on Wednesday night.
As CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge reported earlier, officers were guarding the bar door all day, making sure people did not try to eat and drink inside.
McAlarney defied the rules, last week declaring his business an “autonomous zone” and marking those words on the sidewalk to try to protect himself from COVID lockdown rules.
But it didn’t work. He got slapped with more than a dozen summonses.
McAlarney showed up at his bar on Lincoln Avenue with his attorney Wednesday morning. It was shut down Tuesday night by the city’s Sheriffs Office, and the general manager, Daniel Presti, was taken into custody for allegedly obstructing governmental administration and led away in handcuffs for refusing to stop indoor dining in an orange zone after several warnings.
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“I’m allowed to be inside my private property. I pay my rent,” McAlarney said. “They’re saying right now I can’t serve food and I can’t serve alcohol.”
The city is allowing him to serve takeout food and alcohol, and offer outdoor dining. He just can’t allow people to eat or drink inside, like all other restaurants in the designated orange zone.
“I’m just trying to support my family. We’ve asked you guys to work with us. You refuse to work with us,” McAlarney said.
But local business owner Joseph Cannizzo told James that is not enough for someone operating in New York City.
“We pay high city tax. We pay high state tax. We pay high federal tax like everybody else. A lot of us need to operate above a certain capacity just to be able to even pay our bills and pay our staff,” Cannizzo said.
Others echoed Cannizzo’s sentiments, adding what happened to the bar owner is not fair.
“I actually support him. I believe that people should be allowed to earn a buck with their business,” a woman named Carol said. “I think that a lot of the hype is a little bit exaggerated.”
It’s not an exaggeration that hospitalizations have nearly doubled in the last month across the city.
“So many folks have been struggling to make ends meet and are feeling the challenges now as this second wave is bearing down on us, particularly concerned about so many of our small businesses,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said Wednesday.
The numbers show for the last several weeks, Staten Island’s infection rate has been among the highest in the city. An emergency field hospital, not used since the peak of the pandemic, reopened last week at Staten Island University Hospital.
A neighboring business owner wondered why everyone can’t come together to help slow the spread.
“Why can’t we just all be on one page?” grocery store owner Larry Tajudeen said.
Tajudeen watched in disbelief as several scuffles broke out throughout Wednesday afternoon as McAlarney tried to allow a few friends inside, including state Sen. Andrew Lanza. Officers said they had orders to only let the owner and attorney inside.
Lanza was not arrested. He said he showed up to ask for fairness.
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