A Brooklyn city councilman refused Wednesday to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance at a City Hall meeting, his protest over what he considers unchecked brutality by the NYPD.
Councilman Jumaane Williams, a Democrat, cited camaraderie with the San Francisco 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has begun kneeling at games before the traditional singing of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as have other black athletes.
“I’m no less American right now than I was the day I was born in this country that I love very much, and I’m no less patriotic,” Williams said. “I reject all of those notions that somehow the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance are connected to the sole definition of patriotism.”
While the rest of the council stood during the pledge, Williams remained seated, bowed his head, and did not speak.
He said he had stopped reciting the pledge as a schoolboy, but until Wednesday had usually stood out of deference.
But his frustrations over police impunity “all became overwhelming,” Wednesday, Williams said, after news this week that Daniel Pantaleo, the NYPD cop who put Eric Garner in what the medical examiner called a fatal chokehold in the summer of 2014, saw his pay rise by tens of thousands of dollars while on desk duty.
Williams said he’s also frustrated at the NYPD’s opacity and the City Council’s refusal to allow a vote on a package of police-accountability bills with veto-proof support.
Councilman Eric Ulrich of Queens, one of three Republicans in the 51-member chamber, condemned protests by Williams and Kaepernick as “not appropriate.”
“Why they feel the need to disrespect our country this way is beyond me,” Ulrich said in the City Hall rotunda. The pledge embodies “everything good that America represents, so I don’t know why he would choose to sit down. That’s his right to, I suppose.”
Williams and 9 other council members refused to vote Wednesday for a symbolic resolution condemning the Palestinian-backed Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, an effort to delegitimize Israel over its treatment of Palestinian people.
Members of the council were presumed to support the resolution, unless they walked up to the dais to oppose or abstain.
One of the supporters, Councilman David Greenfield (D-Brooklyn), called people who support the movement anti-Semitic.
“Those activists still have the right to be bigots and they still have the right, if they so choose, to be anti-Israel,” Greenfield said, adding: “To those of you who have those beliefs, we in the council condemn you and your beliefs and your actions.”
Councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D-Brooklyn), who abstained, lamented that the council had handled the resolution in a “divisive” way.
“As a black woman, the fact that I’m here as a City Council member is because my ancestors and the people before me had the right to boycott,” she said.
About a dozen supporters of the Palestinian-backed boycott stood on Broadway, outside the City Hall gates, because the NYPD would not let them onto the grounds. Council spokesman Eric Koch said the protesters were excluded because the group had disrupted a hearing last week on the resolution by yelling and screaming.