In Public Service: Williams pushes for a new New Deal in NYC
The key to solving the problem of gun violence on New York City streets is to stop looking at it strictly as a law enforcement issue and to start taking a holistic approach to the situation, according to Councilmember Jumaane Williams.
Williams (D-Flatbush-East Flatbush-Flatlands), is the co-chair of the council’s Gun Violence Task Force.
While it’s important to have cops out there taking illegal guns off the streets, it’s not enough to solve the problem, Williams said. “We also have to look at the demand for guns,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle over lunch at the Woolworth Kitchen Restaurant near City Hall.
“We need a new New Deal,” Williams said, adding that he’d like to see a comprehensive, Franklin Delano Roosevelt-type of all-out effort involving multiple city agencies, each contributing to improving the lives of the city’s young people.
The departments of Education, Youth and Community Service, Health and Mental Hygiene, and Housing Preservation and Development should be a part of the solution, Williams said. The city should dedicate resources to these agencies so they can assist in the effort to improve young people’s lives so that they don’t have the desire to turn to guns and violence, he said.
“Public safety isn’t just about law enforcement. You have to take a holistic approach. You have to broaden it out,” he said.
Some steps are being taken, he said. The city has dedicated $57 million to the Summer Youth Employment Program to give teens jobs, and councilmembers are pushing for the establishment of an after-school jobs program for young people during the school year.
“For $100 million, we can find a job for every kid who wants one,” Williams said.
The city has also taken important steps in the past, according to Williams, who said the Dinkins administration deserved credit for its Cops and Kids approach, which opened up after-school centers.
“Beacon schools are very important,” said Williams, who once directed a Beacon school himself.
Many ideas on curbing gun violence are contained in a 2012 report issued by the Gun Violence Task Force; a document that Williams said did not get the publicity or the public attention it deserved.
Williams is also a member of the National Network to Combat Violence, an organization made up of councilmembers from across the country who share their ideas on how to make the streets safer.
Williams was one of the architects, along with Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Park Slope) of a 2013 bill to change the NYPD’s controversial stop-question-and-frisk policy to ensure that the civil rights of New Yorkers would be honored.
Opponents of the policy charged that police officers were stopping young African-Americans and Latinos on the streets for no reason. They also charged that the policy did not make the streets safer, since the vast majority of stops did not involve arrests.
“Stop-question-and-frisk is an important police tool, but it was abused. It violated people’s civil rights. It violated the Constitution. It went from being a tool to being a policy. Something had to change,” Williams said.
“The PBA refused to have productive conversations about it,” he said, referring to the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the union representing police officers.
Williams said he found the PBA’s stand ironic. “We support the police. We don’t support bad policies. A lot of officers hated stop-question-and-frisk. It was a burden on them,” he said.
Williams represents the 45th Council District, a seat that includes Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands and parts of Midwood and Canarsie. He was first elected in 2009 and won re-election in 2013.
Williams is the deputy leader of the City Council. He serves as chairman of the council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings and is a co-founder of the council’s Progressive Caucus.
In addition, he is a member of the council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.
Williams, whose parents hailed from the West Indies, is a first-generation Brooklynite, according to his official City Council website. He is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School and Brooklyn College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.
If he hadn’t gone into politics, he would have been an actor or a movie director.
As a kid, “I loved acting,” he told the Eagle. “I loved drama.”
But he was always interested in social justice issues. His heroes were Spiderman and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“I always wanted to affect change, even in the arts,” he said.
In school, he took film production courses, and for a time set his sights on a career as a movie director.
He couldn’t resist the siren call of politics, however. He became active in campus politics at Brooklyn College. He joined the Black Students Union and ran for a seat in the student government. It was an important learning process, he said. “I saw how you could use electoral politics to affect change,” he said.
Williams went on to earn a master’s degree in urban policy and public administration from Brooklyn College.
After college, Williams went to work as an assistant director for the Greater Flatbush Beacon School and then worked as a director at the East Flatbush Community Development Corporation.
Later, he went on to serve as the housing director of the Flatbush Developement Corporation and eventually became the executive director of the New York State Tenants & Neighbors group.
A friend and mentor, former Councilmember Lew Fidler, encouraged him to go into politics.
Williams found a political home at the Thomas Jefferson Democratic Club, where current Brooklyn Democratic Party Chairman Frank Seddio is a member.
As a councilmember, Williams dealt with first the Bloomberg administration and now the de Blasio administration.
“I worked well with both administrations. But with Mayor de Blasio, there is more of a common way of thinking. It’s easier to not have to explain or convince the administration to see things your way,” he said.
Under Bloomberg, Williams had to first convince administration officials to fund a particular endeavor.
In recent years, Williams sponsored a number of bills, including the Fair Chance Act, a bill to prohibit employers from requiring job applicants to answer on an initial job application whether or not they had been convicted of a felony.
The old system was wrong, he said, because employers would often dismiss job applicants out of hand, without so much as an interview, because they had served time in prison. “You were setting people up to fail,” he said.
Current issues Williams is tackling include housing and transportation. He and other councilmembers are looking at legislation to allow dollar vans to operate as long as they adhere to laws.
The vans are a vital link for commuters who live in neighborhoods that are not well served by public transportation, he said.
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