The police nearly outnumbered the protesters at an anti-lockdown protest outside New Park Pizza in Howard Beach during Memorial Day weekend.
A group of around 10 women, who organized through the Howard Beach Moms Facebook group, claimed that Gov. Cuomo’s limited definition of essential businesses is hurting small businesses in the area.
“If a nail salon can’t open and have a few people in there but Home Depot can open and have a hundred people in there, how is Home Depot considered essential?” asked protest organizer Priscilla Dolce, who brought her dog to the Sunday rally.
Dolce said she felt like she had to do something to help the small businesses on the boulevard, many of which are family-owned and run by people who live in the neighborhood, because they’ve been missing out on business.
The protesters chose to gather on the sidewalk in front of the famous Howard Beach pizzeria, which had no part in the planning of the rally, because it marks the beginning of the business corridor along Cross Bay Boulevard. But shortly after its scheduled start time, the organizers expressed disappointment over the low turnout. Thirty minutes later they left.
“This is it? This is all we got?” said a protester as she arrived 20 minutes late to the protest. “Where are the businesses? We’re supporting them and they’re not even here. I left my grandkids for this.”
Although protesters have recently gathered in Manhattan, Albany and Commack, LI to demand that Gov. Cuomo allow the economy to restart, Sunday’s event was one of the first of its kind publicized in Queens, where Howard Beach is an economic outlier.
The neighborhood has a median income of $89,526, nearly $30,000 higher than the median across the entire city. It has 27 reported cases of coronavirus for every 1,000 people, according to The City’s coronavirus tracker.
“If the curve is flattened and the numbers are down, why can’t the people go out?” said Dolce. “We are wearing our masks, we are being cautious of where we’re going and keeping 6 feet distanced. So why can’t everything just be opened and let people decide?”
But Dolce’s caution was not shared by all the protesters.
“There was never a frickin’ virus,” said Laura Weiser, the only protester to arrive wearing a Make America Great Again hat in support of President Trump. She later walked her comment back to admit that the virus is real, but not widespread enough to justify the quarantine in her view.
There were just under 200,000 reported cases in New York City as of last Sunday.
The consensus among the protesters was that they would rally at the same spot next week and hope for more people. But though Dolce blamed short notice in part for the lack of turnout, she conceded that her point of view, polarizing to many, may be to blame.
“I think that a lot of people are afraid to voice their opinion,” said Dolce. “I did have a lot of people who were OK with what I was saying on the post, but when push comes to shove ...”
“This was just a flash in the bucket,” said Weiser. “It’s like you drink a lot of beers and need to take a whizz.”
Frank Zangara, who looked on, said that he didn’t see much point to the rally. Zangara has been parking his vintage muscle car outside the pizzeria to hang out and talk with friends during quarantine, but he wouldn’t go so far to say that the economy should open.
“I think they’re wasting their time. Things are going to open up when they’re ready to open up,” he said.
The other onlookers, the six officers from the 106th Precinct, expressed relief when the protesters abruptly ended the rally.
“It’s a win for us,” said Officer Martinez.