Seven City Council members joined Jumaane Williams Wednesday and sat during the Pledge of Allegiance at City Hall.
Williams, who received racist hate mail after he sat during the last meeting Sept. 14, said he would continue his form of silent protest in light of the recent police shootings of black men.
“There is nothing anti-American to force America to stand up to its ideals,” Williams said in a news conference before the City Council meeting.
His colleagues, Brad Lander, Ruben Wills, Carlos Menchaca, Andy King, Antonio Reynoso, Inez Barron, and Rafael Espinal, echoed his message. The members said they were appalled by the angry vitriol that Williams received since his first sit-down.
Lander said he respected Williams’ protest. “It became clear to me, being an ally, means I sit with him today,” Lander said.
King said those angry at the protest should be thinking about the bigger issues on race.
“Today is about a conversation that America still continues to run away from,” he said.
Williams said he was inspired by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refused to stand during pregame performances of the national anthem as a protest of the treatment of black Americans.
Williams reiterated that just because he’s not standing during the Council’s pledge doesn’t mean he hates this country’s ideals.
“We should applaud that we have this right of protest,” he said.
Several council members who did stand for the pledge respected Williams’ actions, including Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
She too said she was appalled by the racist backlash against the councilman and called for more civility.
“People have the right to express themselves the way they choose,” she said.
Mayor Bill de Blasio also respected Williams’ actions even though he wouldn’t do the same.
“I take the view that the Pledge of Allegiance and saluting the flag during the national anthem are about an affirmation of our democracy that is still evolving, that needs to get better,” he said at another news conference earlier in the day.
(With Matthew Chayes)