This story was reported by Ivan Pereira. It was written by Polly Higgins and Lauren Cook.
Seizing on the timing of President Donald Trump’s derogatory comments about immigrants so close to Martin Luther King Jr. Day, activists and politicians quickly assembled a Times Square protest that drew hundreds of people.
Over 200 people gathered on Seventh Avenue, near 42nd Street, Monday afternoon for the Rally Against Racism. Many in the crowd, which stretched back more than two blocks, waved Haitian flags and wore the colors of the country, which was recently the subject of disparaging remarks from Trump.
City Councilman Mathieu Eugene, who is Haitian, told the ralliers that immigrants from Haiti and African nations “deserve more than what the president said.”
“It’s important that we come together and condemn the words of the president and demand respect,” he said, prompting cheers from the crowd.
Trump, in a White House meeting about immigration policy on Thursday, used the word “shithole” to describe African countries and made other comments about Haiti. Though the White House initially did not refute the vulgar statements, the president has since denied he said them.
Queens Village resident Yves Georges, 51, moved to the U.S. from Haiti 30 years ago. He said the rally’s turnout proves that the city’s immigrants are united.
“It’s absolutely important that we rally, especially after what Trump said,” Georges added. “This is significant that we do this on MLK (sic) Day. We are still fighting racists like Donald Trump.”
A host of elected officials — Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Hakeem Jeffries, and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul among them — took the stage to denounce Trump’s comments as the crowd sang Haitian folk songs in unison while waving flags and protest signs.
Mayor Bill de Blasio thanked the city’s immigrant population for “making us stronger and better.”
Newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had harsh words for the president.
“We’re going to speak the truth today. He’s racist. That’s it,” he said of Trump. “Every time he says this, he wants us to feel beaten down . . . but look at how many people are out here in the cold.”
The protest was one of several planned in Manhattan as a way to mark MLK Day. The Rev. Al Sharpton shared a stage with de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a King Day Public Policy Forum in upper Manhattan.
Earlier Monday, City Councilmen Jumaane Williams and Ydanis Rodriguez attended a rally in Washington Square Park for immigrant rights leaders Ravi Ragbir and Jean Montrevil. The councilmen were arrested on Thursday at a protest for Ragbir’s release from ICE custody in Foley Square.
With Ivan Pereira