Black Activists Back Hamilton, Dispute Allegations They Don’t Participate

White protestors outside State Sen. Jesse Hamilton’s office last week. Photo off of Twitter

When Michael Tucker, founder of the Lay the Guns Down Foundation in Brownsville, learned that City Councilman Jumaane Williams’ (D-Flatbush) community liaison Ernest Skinner told a reporter from the Observer, that black people like him,  “prefer to stay home and watch TV” than to participate in the political process, he was shocked.

“I was blown away because I’ve done several events with Mr. Skinner and Councilmember Williams that they gave. So to hear that black folks are just sitting home watching TV, I find that shocking because there are so many different organizations out here daily without any getting any [government] help, educating the community about violence in regards to what’s happening around them,” said Tucker.

State Sen. Jesse Hamilton

Skinner, one of the respected elders in the Caribbean-black community and who is the president of  his namesake Ernest Skinner Democratic Association Club, from which Williams came out of, made his remarks to the Observer reporter who was covering a protest in front of the Crown Heights office of State Sen. Jesse Hamilton (D-Central Brooklyn) last week.

The protest was centered around Hamilton’s leaving the Senate’s mainstream Democratic Conference, and joining the eight-member breakaway Independent Democratic Conference (IDC), which has formed a coalition with the Republican Conference.

This led to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party made up of mainly white run and membership political organizations such as the Working Family Parties protesting Hamilton, along with the two other Senators of color – Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Queens) and Sen. Marisol Alcantara (D-Upper Manhattan) for joining the IDC.

Skinner was the only person of color among the protestors outside Hamilton’s office and he was questioned about the reason behind this, and thus his answer.

When KCP reached Skinner this week he noted that he was off duty from his job with Williams and was protesting on his own time, but didn’t back off from his comments.

Longtime Civic and Political Activist Ernest Skinner

“We would be fools to not recognize participation is greatly lacking in communities of color relative to the white community,” said Skinner, who is retired as a Citibank executive, where he focussed on economic development in urban areas.

Skinner said while Blacks do vote they are often non-participants in other parts of the political process such as joining political clubs. He said he participated in the protest because Hamilton was registered and elected as a Democrat, but who chose to align himself with the IDC, and thus violated the trust voters put in him.

“He took a position [to join the IDC] ,” said Skinner, putting a lot of the blame on Governor Andrew Cuomo. “Things could have been done differently had Cuomo stepped up and snuffed it [IDC] out. My position as a Democrat is we need to speak up and out, and stop that in the era of Trump.”

But others of color that are both very active politically, including in the BlackLIvesMatter movement took strong umbrage of Skinner’s comments about Blacks not participating, and that the IDC owes the progressive wing of the Democratic Party anything.

“He [Skinner] sounds definitely out of his mind. We support the IDC very much,” said Rev. Kevin McCall, the crises director for Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. “Black folks are very active and have been active over the last 40 years on issues that come up. We’re in the streets protesting, even before Barack Obama and even after he came into office. We’re not just sitting home twiddling our thumbs. We’re also on Facebook and Twitter – and not just about what’s happening on “Scandal,” but in terms of issues and we’re active in voting and organizing.”

Geoffrey Davis

Geoffrey Davis, the Crown Heights Democratic District Leader, who also co-founded the James E. Davis Stop Violence Foundation with his late brother and former City Council Member James E. Davis, said he also found Skinner’s comments off base.

“We ve been actively involved in the community for 25 years and literally have seen thousands and thousands of Black activists in these years – with the peace movement, the political movement and the housing movement. Currently the Bedford Armory issue meeting are bringing hundreds of people of color,” said Davis.

For Julixa Campusano, a disabled army veteran, mother of two young children and business owner of Anays Boutique Inc. in Sunset Park, even the thought of protesting in the middle of the day would be  a stretch – particularly against Hamilton on the grounds that he’s somehow not a good enough Democrat.

“I tend to go to meetings and go to protests when I can, and I tell all the people in my community to vote, but I don’t understand the protest against hom [Hamilton],” said Campusano. “In reality, he’s done a lot for the community in Sunset Park. He has small offices everywhere and he’s helping people with their taxes in the tax season and the elderly. So it doesn’t affect me that he joined the IDC.”

The disagreements about the level of Black involvement among Blacks in the community comes as progressive Democrats are planning another protest against Hamilton joining the IDC – this one outside the offices of Community BOard 7, 4201 4th Avenue in Sunset Park while Hamilton hosts a Town Hall on Immigration Thursday night.

But to Tucker, who is also involved with Hamilton’s “Campus” project which brings high-tech education to public housing in Brownsville, the Democratic Party protesting itself is less important than dealing with the facts on the ground.

“There’s too many people dying. Too many people on the streets, and too many kids that need educating. So blaming each other for what’s taking place, that’s not the solution,” said Tucker.

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