Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn celebrates Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 19, 2016 By Andy Katz Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Castellanos — Eva, Emilia and Luca (l. to r.) — display their artwork prior to marching on behalf of their Muslim neighbors in Bay Ridge. Eagle photos by Andy Katz

Rather than stay home and keep warm on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, about 200 Brooklynites braved frigid temperatures and icy winds of sufficient magnitude to warrant an advisory from City Hall to rally and march through the streets of Bay Ridge on Monday. The participants marched in support of their Muslim neighbors in an area that has become New York City’s largest Muslim-populated neighborhood.

Kids wielding signs gaily decorated with hearts and messages of conciliation — many crafted the day before under the supervision of noted local artists such as Tamara Zahaykevich — marched with their parents behind the ecumenical leadership of Reverend Khader N. El-Yateem, Dr. Ahmad Jaber of the Arab American Association of New York, Rabbi Jeffrey Marker and Rev. Robert Emerick of the Bay Ridge United Methodist Church.

Despite some negative reaction to news of the march that appeared on community websites publicizing the event, supporters proceeded without incident, with only a handful of NYPD electric carts gliding alongside in silent escort.

“This is one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had here,” said Linda Sarsour, president of the Arab American Association of New York. “This is what Bay Ridge is.”

Once at their destination, Rev El-Yateem’s Salam Arabic Lutheran Church, marchers partook in potluck and listened to performances by the Children’s Choir of Bay Ridge and readings from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Delores Huerta and Cesar Chavez.

March organizer Michael Emperor expressed satisfaction at the scope and outcome of the event: “The idea for this didn’t even exist until two weeks — a month ago.” He and the other organizers concluded that people had come together like true neighbors.

The same day, over in Clinton Hill, ICE-Free NYC joined People’s Power Assemblies and several other activist groups to stage a vigil outside St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Clinton Hill to protest the NYC Department of Corrections collaboration with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which they assert unfairly targets people of color and legitimate refugees.

Several dozen activists formed a circle in the church courtyard, holding hands in a protective cordon around another group of demonstrators who huddled within, while NYPD Community Affairs Bureau officers in heavy sky blue jackets monitored them from a few yards away.

Inside St. Mary’s Church, Mayor Bill de Blasio and other political and community leaders observed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with a series of readings from his work that culminated in the civil rights leader’s landmark “I Have Been To The Mountaintop” speech, delivered in Memphis just before his assassination in 1968.

Shortly after de Blasio took the podium, half a dozen activists who had been seated quietly in the middle pews stood and loudly denounced the ICE-DOC collaboration, calling out that Dr. King would not have agreed with “broken windows” and demanding the removal of NYPD Commissioner William Bratton (who was not present at the event). Church personnel and NYPD community affairs officers led the protesters out without incident or arrest.

Barely missing a beat, the mayor concluded the reading.

A short while later, ICE-Free NYC activists marched through the streets of Clinton Hill, sporting “I Have A Dream” banners, drumming and chanting slogans drawn from the past several years of street protests and demonstrations. NYPD officers followed, but marchers stayed on the sidewalks, did not block traffic; there were no incidents. After reaching the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Fulton Street, most called it a night.