BY BILL PARRY AND NAEISHA ROSE | Despite an anonymous death threat against out gay City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer, the Sunnyside, Queens, Democrat, the Council’s majority leader, went ahead with a November 18 march across the Queensboro Bridge to Trump Tower to rally against the president-elect.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at Dutch Kills Green in Long Island City that day for the #QueensResponds March.
“We don’t share his values,” Van Bramer said of Trump. “Queens is a diverse county that appreciates and loves all its neighbors, including the undocumented. We reject racism and all forms of hatred. We are not going to sit back and let folks do horrible things, not even the president-elect.”
The emailed warning to Van Bramer, from an unknown source, arrived two days earlier, shortly after the councilmember did a mass email calling for the November 18 protest.
“Rest of the people from Queens do not agree with your homosexual lifestyle, so get the fuck out of this country you fucking traitor,” the email read. “I will keep a close eye on your every moves [sic] so that when it’s time to execute traitors, I will try my best so that you [sic] name is included in that list of traitors. Execution is the penalty for a traitor, that is the Law Of This Land!”
The NYPD’s Hate Crimes Task Force immediately launched an inquiry into the threat, Van Bramer telling Manhattan Express the unit was “all over it.” As the newspaper went to press, a police department spokesperson said the matter was still under investigation.
On the evening of November 16, more than 700 people packed the Sunnyside Community Services Center to speak out against Trump’s and Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s structural and systematic racism toward the Muslim and other immigrant communities, as well as their misogyny and homophobia.
The email threat referred to those in attendance as “communist socialists.”
That town hall meeting and the march three days later served as a clear message that while Trump was born and raised in Queens, it’s not the same borough as in his childhood.
“This is not normal or acceptable, but we will not back down,” Van Bramer said the day after the threat. “We still plan on marching tomorrow and fighting the racist, sexist, homophobic, and xenophobic demagoguery of Donald Trump. Queens is the most diverse county in the country, and we know that our differences make us stronger. We will fight for these values every single day, no matter what. I am not scared, and I will not back down. Too many are at risk. We must all stand up and peacefully resist.”
Other elected officials at the Saturday protest included New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, City Comptroller Scott Stringer, and Councilmember Jumaane Williams of Brooklyn.
Happy with the turnout, Van Bramer said he was excited to see what the future would hold.
“I want them to stay active, to keep speaking up and to speak up even more,” said Van Bramer said of his constituents who joined the protest.
As Van Bramer addressed the crowd, fellow members of the LGBT community waved rainbow flags as others in the rally chanted, “Donald Trump has got to go,” while holding up “NOT MY PRESIDENT” signs.
“What are Queens values?” said Van Bramer. “We reject racist attorney generals… we reject misogyny… we reject jokes about sexual assault.”
In her speech to the crowd, Mark-Viverito recalled an incident earlier in the week with a constituent.
“As a Latina, I am deeply troubled by what I see,” said Mark-Viverito. “A constituent asked, ‘Madame Speaker, are they going to segregate us?’ I found out he was talking about the Muslim registry,” an idea that Trump’s prospective chief of staff, Reince Priebus, said, on November 20, the incoming administration was not planning but would “not rule out.”
“We are living in dark times and I will not be silent,” added Mark-Viverito.
Stringer thanked Van Bramer for organizing the rally and said a few words of his own before the protesters took to the bridge.
“Let’s give a round of applause to someone that’s personally been threatened… [and] reject scapegoating of our Muslim brothers…reject anti-Semitism,” said Stringer.
As the demonstrators recited, “Your hands are too small to build the wall,” while walking to Trump Tower, motorcyclists revved their engines, bicyclists fist-pumped the air, and drivers honked in support of their protest.
Maksaba Zaman, a Muslim-American woman originally from Bangladesh now residing in Woodside, had a few choice words for Trump and his presidency.
“I don’t want him as a president,” said Zaman, 40. “I have been living here for 27 years… Muslims are not terrorists… I follow the rules and pay my taxes every single year and he doesn’t even pay taxes.”
Amy Shin, 39, from Forest Hills expressed concerns for college students.
“I work for CUNY and we have a lot of undocumented students who are fearful and tense and don’t know what is going to happen next,” said Shin.
There was, however, also a Trump supporter present, and he spoke up in defense of the president-elect.
“I support Trump because for eight years the Democratic Party has done nothing to support blacks but keep us in disarray, so if Donald Trump can provide anything more than we are getting, I am willing to accept that,” said Calvin Hunt, 50. “This is the job he was elected to, so let’s give him a chance.”
But Cheryl Eissing, 24, who traveled to the march from Franklin Square in Long Island, better reflected the prevailing opinion of the crowd.
“I am afraid of rape culture getting worse,” she said. “I think that it is really scary that people want to normalize hate rhetoric and a lot of things that shouldn’t even be a part of the conversation anymore when it comes to politics. Human rights are no longer a question. I think it’s very sad that we took a step backward.”