Protesters disrupt Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce forum to attack Muslim ban

Demonstrators yell, ‘bridges, not walls!’ shout down Donovan

February 6, 2017 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Forum moderators Chamber President Andrew Hoan and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer question Brooklyn House delegation members Yvette Clarke, Carolyn Maloney, Dan Donovan, Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia Velázquez (left to right). Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce
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The anger that many Americans feel over Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. was on full display at a forum sponsored by the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce on Monday, as protesters shouted down U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan when he tried to explain his support for the president’s controversial move.

As soon as Donovan (R-C-Southwest Brooklyn-Staten Island) took the microphone to introduce himself to the audience, protesters who were scattered throughout the National Grid auditorium at One MetroTech Center stood up en masse, held up signs and shouted, “No Muslim ban, Dan!” and “Bridges, not walls!”

Several of the protesters were escorted out of the auditorium by police after they refused to sit down and be quiet. One protester, Mallory McMahon, of the group Fight Back Bay Ridge, shouted, “We refuse to accept a fascist America,” as she left.

“I’m not asking you to agree with me,” Donovan told the demonstrators.

The chamber event, which was open to the general public but required pre-registration to attend, was held as part of the organization’s Brooklyn Newsmakers series and featured the Brooklyn delegation of the House of Representatives. Along with Donovan, U.S. Reps. Nydia Velázquez, Hakeem Jeffries, Yvette Clarke and Carolyn Maloney were the guest speakers. The sixth member of the Brooklyn delegation, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, was unable to attend.

Chamber President and CEO Andrew Hoan and Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer served as the moderators.

But while the forum was expected to cover a wide variety of topics of interest to Brooklyn’s business community, it was clear from the start that the storm over Trump’s executive order was Topic A for many of the people in the audience.

At one point, Denise Arbesu, chairperson of the chamber’s board of directors, stood up from her seat and implored the demonstrators to show Donovan the courtesy of listening to him.

Donovan, the only Republican in the Brooklyn delegation, was also the only panelist who supported the executive order signed by the president on Jan. 27. The executive order, which put a 90-day halt on people entering the U.S. from seven countries — Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan — spawned protests in cities all over the country.

“We live in a very dangerous time in the world,” Donovan said, adding that the ban was merely “a pause” designed to give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security the chance to develop more stringent vetting procedures for immigrants to keep potential terrorists out. The U.S. government should have the right to ensure that immigrants seeking to enter the country “really are who they say they are,” he said.

The seven targeted countries do not have good vetting procedures on their end, according to Donovan.

“That is my position. I’m not asking you to accept it or agree with it,” Donovan told the protesters.

Later in the day, Donovan came out with a statement: “The right to free speech is enshrined in the very first amendment to our Constitution. Every person — everybody — has a right to express an opinion, especially to elected representatives. That’s why I have an open door policy: I’ll meet with any constituent who wants to share his or her opinions and concerns. All they have to do is ask for a meeting. With respect to this morning specifically, protests have a proper place and time. The Chamber spent a lot of time putting together a panel for their membership to hear from policymakers on taxes, regulations, and health care. The disrupters took away that opportunity and hijacked the Chamber’s event. We can disagree, but to shout down opinions because they’re different from your own contradicts the basic concept of open discourse and deprives others of an opportunity to hear from every side.”

Velazquez (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook-DUMBO) predicted that the travel restriction would be overturned by the courts. “The Muslim ban is going to be ruled unconstitutional,” she said. Velázquez and Nadler hurried out to John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 28 to assist immigrants who were being detained due to the ban.

“The executive order hits us squarely where we live,” said Clarke (D-Central Brooklyn), who added that the country’s great strength comes from the fact that the a nation of immigrants. “We know we’re better than this,” she said.

Clarke said that while she understood the desire expressed by Americans who are eager to protect the country from possible terrorist threats, “it doesn’t mean we have to discriminate.”

Maloney (D-Greenpoint-parts of Williamsburg), who said Democrats are prepared to fight the constitutionality of the ban in the courts, added that she was troubled by what she saw as the president’s lack of foresight. Her office plans to look into how the ban was developed and why Trump acted so swiftly, she said.

“You should tear up the ban or tear up the Statue of Liberty,” Maloney said.

The ban will have an adverse effect on the economy and on tourism, according to Jeffries (Bedford-Stuyvesant-Canarsie-Coney Island).

Instead of a ban, Jeffries said comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, is what is really needed. He cited a study which showed that immigration reform would reduce the deficit by $750 billion.

Jeffries also questioned whether the Muslim ban would keep the country safe from terrorism.


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