Sixteen City Council members staged a “kneel-in” on the steps of City Hall on Wednesday to express their solidarity with professional athletes who have been chastised by President Donald Trump for protesting the national anthem.
“We decided it was time to show again that one, we believe in free speech and two, that protesting is the most American thing one can do. It is in fact the only thing that has ever propelled this country to move forward,” said Councilman Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn) of the group’s message to Trump.
NFL players who have knelt during the national anthem, Williams said, have done so to call attention to black civilians killed during altercations with police.
“This was not about the flag, this was not about patriotism, this was about pushing back on a system of supremacy, a system of oppressive policies that have been around this country for a very long time,” he said.
Williams held up a Colin Kaepernick jersey as he took a knee, a nod to the free agent NFL player who started the anthem protest last season.
Trump has taken to Twitter in recent days to denounce the acts of protest, telling NFL owners to boot the players. Some teams responded to Trump’s criticism Sunday and Monday with various displays of unity, including locking arms during the “Star-Spangled Banner.”
Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Brad Lander (D-Brooklyn) and Bill Perkins (D-Manhattan) were among the council members to kneel on the City Hall steps shortly after noon.
“We stand here united to tell Donald Trump and all of those who enjoy the same rhetoric he spits out everyday . . . we’ll fight you tooth and nail,” Perkins said.
Councilman Joe Borelli (R-Staten Island), a Trump supporter, responded to the kneel-in on Twitter, saying in a post he would stand for the Pledge of Allegiance during Wednesday’s City Council meetingas several other council members including Williams said they would sit-out the pledge.
“Will be standing 4 #PledgeofAllegiance today while majority of @NYCCouncil kneels. If ur offended & live on #StatenIsland, don’t vote for me,” Borelli wrote.