An Activist Councilman at the Forefront of Brooklyn Unrest

Jumaane Williams represents the neighborhood in New York City where young people have gathered to protest the killing by police of Kimani Gray.

Posted: 03/14/2013 06:23 PM EDT
Activist Councilman Jumaane Williams at the Forfront of Bkyln Unrest

More than most of his colleagues on the City Council of New York City, Jumaane Williams seems to perpetually attend community events not only in his Brooklyn district, but throughout the city. When rallies were held in New York City to protest the killing of Trayvon Martin, for example, Williams was there.

It is no surprise that Williams is now front and center in the effort to diffuse the recent tensions in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn, where unrest has been high in the aftermath of the police killing of a 16-year-old young man.

Just Thursday, he was a principal speaker at a press conference following the third day of unrest that followed the killing of Kimani Gray, the armed teenager who was shot seven times by New York City police officers. Police have maintained that the teenager pointed a loaded a gun at them. He is seeking to diffuse the impact of the high tensions that have to numerous arrests as police in riot gear have clashed with angry young people.

"What happened here in the past couple days is wrong," Williams said at Thursday’s press conference. "There are people — well-intentioned as they may be — who are coming into the community and capitalizing on a terrible situation and making it worse."

By any standard, the 36-year-old Williams has been an activist figure since coming to the council after his election in 2009. He has been in the forefront of the opposition to stop-and-frisk, a program under which hundreds of thousands of young New Yorkers, most of them African-American and Latino, are detained by police each year. Just last week, Williams made headlines for being immersed in a verbal skirmish at a City Council hearing with Raymond Kelly, the city’s police commissioner, over Kelly’s defense of stop-and-frisk.

“The continued defense of this program by the commissioner and the doubling and tripling down of it by the mayor is fanning the flames in many communities like mine,” Williams said, in an interview with BET.com. “It’s not only frustrating. It’s dangerous.”

In fact, Williams has had his share of personal encounters with New York City police. Two years ago, Williams was handcuffed and detained by police during the West Indian Day Parade in Brooklyn after he had an argument with officers over whether he was allowed to use a sidewalk. The department later disciplined the officers.

Williams has been a constant presence in the East New York community where Gray was killed. He is suggesting that the unrest in his district has been fueled largely by people who have come from outside of the neighborhood.

Williams is a first-generation resident of Brooklyn whose parents were born in the Caribbean island of Grenada. While he was earning his undergraduate degree in political science and a master’s degree from Brooklyn College, he was a student leader and served as the graduate student body president.

After he graduated, he worked as the assistant director for the Greater Flatbush Beacon School, where he provided leadership for its first successful summer. He later worked as the interim executive director of Flatbush East Community Development Corporation. As a community organizer, Williams worked in a public housing complex in Brooklyn and successfully secured city funding for a new youth program.

He continued advocating on behalf of affordable housing as the housing director for the Flatbush Development Corporation, where he resuscitated a defunct housing program. Williams also served as the executive director of New York State Tenants & Neighbors, a state-wide organization that stands for tenants’ rights and affordable housing through organizing and advocacy.

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(Photo: PETER FOLEY /LANDOV/EPA)

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