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NYC Mayor de Blasio: Hart Island Rumors suggesting something horrible and inhumane are false and shouldn’t be reported

NYC Mayor de Blasio on Hart Island Claims: Rumors suggesting something horrible and inhumane, are absolutely false and should not be reported

Hart Island, located in the borough of the Bronx and situated within the Long Island Sound, has been used as a mass burial site since 1980.

During the week beginning April 5, 2020 numerous news outlets reported concerns about the burial locations of COVID-19 victims. All due to the alarming increase in virus related deaths which have been gripping New York City as well as the State. In response to these reports, Mayor Bill de Blasio on April 9 addressed the concerns once again, just as he had earlier in the week and in the week prior.

Doc Searls from Santa Barbara, USA / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

The series of concerns over how the city was handling the bodies of those lost to the disease began with a tweet by Council Member Mark Levine which stated how “temporary interment” would likely be done through burials within NYC parks. Numerous reports sprang forth reiterating this claim. The Mayor then responded by clearly declaring these claims as ‘False’.

Media interest in the subject would continue in the days that followed due to the continued increase in virus-related deaths; reports that the burial process on Hart Island was accelerating; and quite possibly due to the Mayor’s own statements on April 6.

The Mayor’s response to a fielded question that day, “…but I am sorry and I say this respectfully – this topic is something that a lot of folks in the media want to ask me about. I’m just going to draw a line on this one. We’ll put out updates when is the time. I am telling you the thing that I believe is what New Yorkers need to hear. Do we have the capacity to handle it? Yes. We’ve been working closely with the federal government to make sure we have the capacity. Yes, there will be delays because of the sheer intensity of this crisis. We’re going to try and treat every family with dignity, respect, religious needs of those who are devout. And the focus right now is to try and get through this crisis and obviously also put all of our energy and resources into saving those we can save. So, that’s how we’re going to go about it. We will have the capacity for temporary burials. That’s all I’m going to say.”

Later in the day he would state, “If there was ever going to need to be a place for burial, it would be Hart Island where burials are already done. And then there was a question of whether inmates from Rikers Island would be used, the answer’s categorically, no. I’ve said that previously. So, those are the facts. There’s really no reason for anyone to talk about this issue anymore. It’s being addressed. But much more importantly, hopefully we never get near any of those eventualities and we can focus all of our energies on saving lives.”

His mention of the prison on Rikers Island would stem from a question posed a week earlier on March 31. He would be asked about supposed reports that inmates were being offered $6 an hour to dig mass graves on Hart Island. To which he would say, “I have not heard that”.

Today (April 9) the questions would not cease, especially after numerous reports would appear claiming heightened activity on the island. One question would ask him about the NYC morgue’s abilities, to which he’d say, “The reason I don’t want to get into sort of deep and graphic discussion on this issue is I just don’t think it’s fair to New Yorkers and I don’t think it’s fair to families who are grieving or families who are afraid to spend time talking about something very painful. And I think the dignity that we have to give to all families who are suffering is not to make this a public issue and an issue that causes graphic descriptions publicly and blaring headlines and pictures of dead people. I mean, really, I do understand what a free press has to do in a crisis, but I also think there needs to be real sensitivity to the families that are suffering. So, I think the question – the number-one question to me is, are we able to address this painful reality? My answer to all New Yorkers – yes, because our Office of the Medical Examiner is very strong, very professional, you know, nationally renowned. We’ve given them every resource they need. There’s still going to be challenges, there’s still going to be delays, but we’ll support them with whatever they need. And we’ve gotten tremendous support from the federal government. Of all the areas where I’ve asked the federal government, from the White House on down, to help us, this is one where every single request has been answered. Everything we’ve asked them to send has been sent. And we clearly have, you know, painful, but real contingency plans to deal with anything that might come up ahead, but with a very clear standard – dignity for the families. Every family is treated individually. God forbid we lose anyone, but they will be treated, their body will be treated individually. And specifically, that will be something we can do with each family. And some of the rumors and some of the reporting have suggested something much more horrible and inhumane, and that’s absolutely false and it should not be reported.”

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