Nandita Mohan / Sun Staff Photographer

Protesters held up signs and yelled at Bassett, "Mary Basset, do your job!"

April 24, 2018

Protest Against Chicken Slaughter Disrupts Public Health Lecture

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A protest that broke out during a lecture required the speaker, Dr. Mary Bassett, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, to be escorted out of the room by Cornell University Police Department officers on Monday.

Shortly after Bassett began her speech, a woman in the audience marched to center stage with a sign that pictured a slaughtered chicken and Mary Bassett’s face.

“Mary Bassett, do your job!” she yelled.

Following this demonstration, around 20 other people began chanting and pacing the aisles while handing out flyers and toting banners. The protest centered around Kapparot — a ritual practiced by some Jews for Yom Kippur that takes place in areas including Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx — for which over 60,000 chickens are killed annually, according to a protest flier.

The protesters expressed their concerns with the sanitary risks posed by this event.

“Residents and businesses are subjected to putrid conditions that violate 8 health codes as well as several other city and state laws,” one of the flyers read. “NYC officials have done NOTHING to prohibit this practice.”

The protesters refused to leave and crowded around Bassett, who said to the crowd that she will not engage in this debate even though she “respects your right to exercise free speech.”

Profs. Rebecca Slayton and Jessica Ratcliff, science and technology studies, surrounded Bassett as the protest took place until she was escorted out of the room by CUPD.

With no indication if the lecture would be continued, some audience members left the room. The unnamed group persisted in their protest of the “bloody massacre in the NYC streets” for another ten minutes until Prof. Bruce Lewenstein, science and technology studies, announced that the lecture would not resume and another private lecture would be scheduled and recorded.

Upon the announcement, the protestors lowered their signs and left the room and soon after Bassett was brought back onto the stage.

Bassett said that she has encountered such protest before and that she had spoken with demonstrators in a more diplomatic manner.

“I recognize many of them from New York City,” she said, adding that she is “the only public official who has been treated to this display.”

One student who attended the lecture said that the protest came as a surprise.

“At first I was just very confused because people started getting up and yelling, but as they all combined and walked around holding signs while yelling at Mary Bassett, I began to really fear for my safety,” Eliana Kaplan ’21 told The Sun.

Bassett’s talk, the 2018 Nordlander Lecture in Science and Public Policy, intended to address the issue of structural racism and its ties to public health, according to the event description.