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How a protester helped saved Memorial Day for New Yorkers

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How a protester helped saved Memorial Day for New Yorkers 1

Linda Bouferguen may have single-handedly saved the holiday weekend in New York.

The young Brooklyn nursing student was twice arrested this month outside City Hall for violating the state’s lockdown on nonessential gatherings during small, socially distanced demonstrations against New York’s shutdown.

But the pandemic-induced ban violated her First Amendment rights, insisted Bouferguen, who watched Gov. Andrew Cuomo make exceptions this week to the “no gathering” rules for Memorial Day and religious events — but not protests.

She sought official permission to hold another demonstration and when she was ignored, Bouferguen went to court.

With the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Bouferguen filed a federal lawsuit against Cuomo Friday. Hours later, the gov abruptly reversed course on lockdown rules forbidding non-essential gatherings and protests.

Of course, the change also means traditional Memorial Day events like barbecues, house parties and other get togethers now have a green light, provided the events have less than 10 people and abide by social distancing rules.

“I don’t consider myself a hero,” said Bouferguen, 32. “Any American would have done what I did.”

Bouferguen, who was born in the former Soviet Union, was surrounded by 24 police officers as she stood outside City Hall May 8 waving an American flag with a handful of other demonstrators, including her 52-year-old mom, Elena.

“This should never happen in America,” she said, describing how she was handcuffed, forced into a police van and issued a summons. When she returned to protest the following day, she was arrested again, Bouferguen said.

For Bouferguen, who used to work at a small accounting firm that saw 20 of their clients shutter their businesses as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the legal victory is bittersweet.

“I know people who committed suicide because they lost everything, nurses who lost their jobs and others who suffered heart attacks because hospitals wouldn’t care for them,” she told The Post. “This just has to stop.”

Bouferguen moved to the US with her parents 20 years ago after her father, a native of Algeria who had fled to Russia during the Cold War, was “constantly harassed” by police and the military when the Chechen War began, during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

“He was dark-skinned, and I guess they thought he was a terrorist,” she said. “We never protested in Russia because we were not allowed, but when the Soviet Union collapsed, my mother went out into the streets,” she said, adding her mother is “very proud” of her determination to protest outside City Hall.

On Saturday, Bourferguen returned to City Hall carrying the Stars and Stripes, and a hand-drawn placard that said: “This is no longer about the virus. This is about freedom.” She was accompanied by five other demonstrators.

“What all of this means is that one person can really change things,” said Bouferguen. “But it’s really a small victory. Imagine what we could do if a lot of people decide to rise up and change things.”

As for Memorial Day celebrations, Bouferguen told The Post she is going to a barbecue Monday in New Jersey.

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