Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, Deputy Leader, held a press conference on Thursday, joined by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, several of his colleagues in government, veterans and anti-gun violence advocates, as he publicly announced his intention to continue his protest that he began two weeks ago, and push back on the notion that protesting is un-American.
Elected officials across the country also voiced their support for Williams, who represents the 45th Council District in Brooklyn.
On Sept. 14, Williams said he protested during the Pledge of Allegiance at the City Council Stated Meeting “to push the conversation of violence as a social justice issue and addressing the underlying causes of police-involved shootings and overall gun violence in the same communities.”
Williams had gone public with his private protest in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest against police brutality.
Since William’s protest, there have been three more incidents of questionable shootings of black men that ended in death. He has also since then received a number of hate mail.
“I believe that the national conversation that has resulted from the protests begun by NFL player Colin Kaepernick should be supported,” Williams said. “My own protest is driven by the need to push the conversation locally in addressing the underlying factors related to police-involved shootings and overall problem of gun violence.”
“I have long held the belief that fundamentally we have to change how our city government addresses this problem,” he added. “That we have to move away from the short-sighted solution that we should respond to crime and poverty in troubled neighborhoods with more policing. “
“Our law enforcement community does a remarkable job in protecting this City, at the same time, our society often places the unfair burden upon these officers to address social, economic and mental health issues that they are not equipped to address,” Williams continued. “Our City needs a new New Deal when it comes to how we allocate funding for the educational, employment and counseling resources that these communities are starved for.”
Williams tied this also to the need for jobs as a solution to crime.
He plans on sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance until the SYEP taskforce comes out with their report accessing the need and feasibility for universal jobs.
Williams was joined by Communities United For Police Reform, American Civil Liberties Union, Vocal NY, G.MA.C.C., Justice League, and Show Up For Racial Justice.
He was also joined by many council members who are supportive of his right to protest.
Following the press conference, seven of Council Member Williams’ colleagues decided to sit during the Pledge of Allegiance. They included, Council Members Inez Barron, Rafael Espinal, Andy King, Brad Lander, Carlos Menchaca, Antonio Reynoso and Ruben Wills.
“Council Member Williams and I are on the same side of the fight for justice, even as I stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and he exercises his right to sit,” Adams said. “We have different tactics, but the same message. We must protect and preserve the right to protest, and we must be responsive to those righteously and peacefully voicing calls for societal change that is generations overdue.”
“In my service to the United States, I fought for the right to do what you choose to do as long as it’s legal,” said Vietnam veteran Errol Vannooten, who is also a recipient of the Purple Heart Medal of Honor.
“Each time I hear someone criticizing another person for their right of dissension for some governmental act they consider to be unconstitutional, I look at the bullet wound I have on my left thigh, and this reminds me that I paid a price for that,” he added. “I would never let anyone take away that right from anyone.”
“I proudly support my colleague, Council Member Jumaane Williams in his fight for justice,” Espinal said. “Whether in the chambers of City Hall, on the streets of Brooklyn, or in peaceful protests across this country, we must always call out unjust behavior and strive for a world where all Americans are safe, respected, and equal under the law.”