Council Member Jumaane D. Williams represents the 45th New York City Council district in Brooklyn. He has been a vocal leader for police reform and affordable housing. He authored New York City’s Community Safety Act, which banned racial profiling by New York Police Department officers and established an independent inspector general for the Department. He recently declared that he will be running for Speaker of the New York City Council.
How do you think your job as City Council Member for East Flatbush has changed recently?
I think elected officials across the country on the local level have become that much more important to protecting their constituencies. I have tried to be consistent in the type of leadership I have provided for the 45th district. My district is predominantly immigrants–either born in another country or first generation [immigrants], so my job is to make sure there is accurate information being provided because there’s a rumor mill that can cause mass hysteria. I also try to provide a platform for people to let out their anxieties, as well as providing them a way to feel empowered and get organized to push back.
You have a strong record of critiquing the current and previous mayoral administration on issues that affect your constituents. How do you see that evolving under Trump? How do you see yourself balancing a united front of resistance but also being able to critique the Mayor’s office to guarantee the rights of your constituents?
I think my constituents expect me to continue to push us towards the ideal, but that doesn’t mean you’re not pragmatic with your optimism. But nothing happens without push…and I will always continue to push. I am proud that I live in a sanctuary city. It’s not a legal term but it just means that the political leadership of the city has united to say that we are going to live in a city where we are going to protect everybody and everybody is a New Yorker. And that makes it one step easier because you don’t have to convince people of the importance. And I feel there were some things we could have done beforehand to shore up the front even more before Trump got in. But a lot of people never believed a Trump presidency could exist — I always believed that it could exist. I believe there were some progressive things that could have moved forward if people understood the dangers. But we’re here now, and I think people are united in at least trying to show people that we are a sanctuary city…I don’t feel that we’re doing enough, or somehow we are backsliding on what we say we are doing, then I am going to continue to push. That’s what the job entails.
You’ve spoken out against the recent rise of hate speech and hate crimes in your community. What is the community’s response to the rise of hate crimes and how can these responses be improved?
I’ve taken a continual united front speaking against all things bigoted, racist, xenophobic, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and transphobic. People can’t wait until it’s their particular group. It’s important to remember, though, that America and this city didn’t change on November 8, and a lot of this stuff was here before and I think a lot of people just had a lot of trouble understanding and realizing that. People have been emboldened now to just be out-front, outright and acting in a bigoted manner. So I think we have to make sure we are speaking out against [hate crimes].
We have to continue to provide resources for community groups that are fighting against [hate crimes]. Our police department is there to do a job, and they are partners in this, but communities have to express other ways to defend ourselves and push back against this bigotry. We can’t rely on and say that everything has to be [the responsibility of the] police. I think we need to find some community strength as well in pushing back on it.
How do you see the role of the city changing in American society under the Trump administration?
I think the country looks at places like New York City for its direction a lot of times, so we have to be that light that people look at. We have [to be] the ones that push back most forcefully. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the places that have the most diversity are the places that push back the hardest, because I think what happens a lot of times is that the places with the least amount of diversity have the most amount of fear, just because they haven’t been around these people. Places with diversity begin to realize that, actually, everybody is a human trying to find their way. We have to take back the paradigm, and for too long we’ve let conservatives, bigots really define the discussion, and I’ve watched it in amazement. We can no longer allow that to happen. We have to refuse to pretend somehow that policies that are based in bigotry, xenophobia, and racism are equal to any other policies. They’re not. They’re completely anathema to America and they should not be held on the same balance as normal discussions of policy and politics. We just have to push back on that as hard as we can and stop letting people pretend that they deserve equal footing in discussions.