A jury in Manhattan on Monday reached a mixed verdict in a case against Brooklyn Council Member Jumaane D. Williams on charges related to his arrest for protesting the deportation of Trinidadian immigrant rights activist and community leader Ravi Ragbir.
The jury found Williams, 42, the son of Grenadian immigrants, guilty of one count of Obstructing an Emergency Medical Services, but also found him not guilty on counts of Disorderly Conduct and Obstructing Governmental Administration.
Williams, who represents the predominantly Caribbean 45th Council District in Brooklyn and Lieutenant Governor candidate for the State of New York, was immediately sentenced to time served.
Judge Steven M. Statsinger said the sentence was for the few hours that Williams had spent in police custody after his arrest.
The misdemeanor conviction will not impact on Williams’s ability to run for public office or to vote.
“I believe and still believe your heart was in the right place, and your moral compass, which is otherwise as far as I could tell completely accurate, went a little awry,” said Judge Statsinger after imposing the lenient sentence.
Williams had objected to a lenient plea offer from the Manhattan district attorney.
Instead, he said he wanted to go on trial to further highlight the Trump administration’s draconian immigration policy.
“Today’s rulings validate what I have known to be true- that the actions for which I was arrested were necessary and impactful,” said Williams, who refers to himself as an “activist politician,” after the verdict was announced. “It’s always been my belief that you have to do what you can, with what you have, where you are, and that those with privilege have an obligation to take risk on behalf of those who don’t.
“I welcomed the risk on behalf of Ravi and undocumented immigrants living under the tyranny of ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency], and I am glad that the jury saw that the actions of myself and the 17 others arrested alongside me were reasonable and necessary,” he added. “It is my hope that throughout New York, people continue to rise up to oppose such immoral acts. My thanks to all who have supported me, especially the New Sanctuary Coalition under Ravi’s leadership.”
Williams and his attorneys, Ron Kuby and Rhiya Trivedi, had presented a case arguing that his actions to stop the deportation of Ragbir were reasonable, and that the actions by the New York Police Department (NYPD) and ICE, which Williams was impeding, were not themselves unlawful given New York City’s status as a sanctuary city and “the rough conduct which federal and local officials exhibited at the time of the arrest.”
Trivedi thanked the jury for “recognizing that what the NYPD was doing that day was unlawful and immoral.
“We encourage more people to do as Jumaane did – to put their bodies on the line to stop ICE from disappearing people we love and need,” she said.
Jury foreman Eric Declercq told reporters outside the court house that “there was no perfect outcome in this.
“I think everyone would agree this is not a case about traffic violations,” he said. “We had a lot of trouble with it, morally.”
Williams’ trial began on Jul. 31, and the defense rested on Friday after Williams himself testified.
The jury deliberated through Monday afternoon after closing statements were delivered that morning.
Throughout the course of the trial, supporters of Williams and of immigrant rights were in attendance, including advocates from the New Sanctuary Coalition, as well as Ragbir.
“I am very disappointed that Jumaane has a conviction on his record because of his actions to defend me,” Ragbir said. “My wife, my friends and I are forever grateful that he took those courageous steps to fight back against our inhumane and brutal deportation system, and I hope others will take up this spirit of action.”
On Jan. 11, Williams was arrested, along with 17 others, including New York City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, as he protested the detention and imminent deportation of Ragbir outside the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building at 26 Federal Plaza, in lower Manhattan.
Ragbir had reported to the federal building for his routine check-in with ICE, when he was taken into custody, without warning, and transported from the building in an ambulance to be deported.
A crowd of hundreds of protesters surrounded the vehicle and impeded its path.
Williams testified in court that his intention was to “buy more time” to delay and ultimately prevent Ravi’s deportation.
“Today’s verdict in my brother Jumaane’s case is a milestone in the immigration fight,” said Rodriguez, who was arrested with Williams. “Our actions of Jan. 11 made an impact on Ravi’s life, as he remains in this country and that of millions of immigrants in this country.
“We must continue to stand for immigrants no matter their nationality, because this country was built for and by us,” he added.
Eighteen days after Ragbir was detained, a US federal judge ruled ICE’s actions on the Jan. 11 to be unconstitutional.
Ragbir’s deportation is stayed, and he remains in the United States