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New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams: Civil Disobedience Is Needed to Protect Immigrants

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New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams was arrested last Thursday along with fellow City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez and 16 others as they and others attempted to block an ambulance being used to transport Ravi Ragbir to detention last week. Speaking at Judson Memorial Church, Williams talked about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspiration and the need for civil disobedience.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: New York City Councilmember Jumaane Williams also spoke. Williams was arrested along with fellow City Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez and 16 others, as they and others attempted to block an ambulance being used to transport Ravi Ragbir to detention last week.

COUNCILMEMBER JUMAANE WILLIAMS: I want to say to those who question myself and Councilmember Ydanis Rodríguez and the others that were arrested with us, who question why we were in the streets, who question why we were blocking a van with people in it—if you come out of a building with no lights and no sirens, you are a van with passengers. If you are questioning what we were doing there on Martin Luther King Day, please shut your mouth. Don’t let that man’s name come out of your lips, if you dare question why we were in those streets.

We are in the streets because we follow the best tradition of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King and so many like him. There are people who want to sanitize who Dr. King was, who want to sanitize his message. But let us be clear: He was an agitator. He was a disruptor. He wanted to disrupt the norm. Do not confuse nonviolence, which I agree with, with being docile. We are going to disrupt and shut down whatever we need to do, until we make people understand we are fighting to uproot the same system that Dr. King was. And I say “uproot,” because I always want to make it clear that the system is working how it was designed to work. The people who are on the bottom are supposed to be there. We don’t need to change the system; we need to uproot it and replace it.

We in this room are in the best tradition of this country. I get upset when I hear people saying what’s happening now is not what America is, Donald Trump and his cronies are not who America are. America was founded on those values. We need to be clear about that. That is the tradition of America. But I thank the lord, that I serve, that there are people in this room who have pushed back from the beginning of this country. And we are the ones who were in the street fighting for Ravi Ragbir. We are the ones who were in the street fighting for Jean. We are the ones who are fighting for the people who are called “other” in any country.

I stand here proud, because in that street, with those folks, it was a proud, proud day. It was the closest that I’ve felt to what must have happened when people were fighting decades ago. Nobody here was there. Nobody can say that they are those people that we celebrate. But the feeling of fear that I had and understanding that the morality of what was going on dictated that I continue to move forward within that fear. So I’m here to tell folks—some people say, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be fearful. Fear is not a spirit of God.” But I’m here to tell you, while that is true, I am human, and so are you, so fear is a human emotion. But what we need is the courage that God has given us to move forward in that fear. And I feel the courage in this room to make sure we move forward, to make sure we get justice.

AMY GOODMAN: New York City Councilman Jumaane Williams, among 18 people arrested after Ravi Ragbir was detained. Jumaane Williams has also announced his intentions to explore the possibility of running for lieutenant governor here in New York.

When we come back, we’ll be joined by the relatives of both Jean Montrevil and Ravi Ragbir. And we’ll speak with Jean Montrevil, who has just arrived in Haiti after he was deported. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “It’s My Brown Skin” by Helado Negro, Black Ice Cream, singing live in our Democracy Now! studios. He begins his national tour today. To see his full performance and interview, go to

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