Celebrating King in Kings County

Celebrating King in Kings County
Photo by Paul Martinka

Martin Luther King, Jr. would have plenty to keep him busy in Brooklyn these days.

That was the message of the pols who took the stage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Monday for the 29th annual tribute to King on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Apparently referencing recent criticism by police unions, Mayor DeBlasio said there is nothing wrong with peaceful protest like the kind King advocated.

“There is no contradiction between public safety and fairness,” he said. “The society we aspire to create, in the image of Dr. King, is a society where everyone feels safe and respected. Is safe and treated fairly.”

Invoking the protests that gripped the city late last year following the non-indictment of police officers in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island for the killings of unarmed black men, DeBlasio said nonviolent demonstrations are an effective tool for achieving social change.

“I know Dr. King would talk to us about the power of peaceful protest,” he said. “His movement worked. It was transcendent. It changed the hearts and minds of people across the country.”

Adams, who officiated the event, took a shot at the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association and its head, Pat Lynch, during his introduction of the mayor, saying the conversation DeBlasio said he had with his son Dante, who is mixed-race, about being careful when dealing with police officers was totally valid.

“Unions will always fight for their members, but they should never get it twisted. When it’s time to determine which policies are going to impact the people of the city of New York, I did not elect the PBA. I elected the mayor,” Adams said. “No matter how difficult it was for some people to absorb his testimony about his son, that was a conversation he felt he needed. Remember, he didn’t adopt Dante. That’s his seed.”

Between musical performances by the New York Fellowship Mass Choir and Sandra Saint Victor and Oya’s Daughter other pols spoke about King’s enduring legacy and the importance of continuing to work towards his goals. Sen. Charles Schumer (D–New York) read from King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” them urged the audience to stop waiting, a key refrain in the text.

“Let us not wait. Let us move forward. Let us create a more just America,” he said.

The polarizing and fiery intellectual Cornel West gave the keynote speech for the event. He urged people to remember how King was perceived during his time in order to highlight the civil rights leader’s courage in the face of adversity.

“It’s so easy to deodorize Martin Luther King. Every year you just see him Santa Claus-ified more,” West said. “But the FBI said he was one of the most dangerous men. He cut against the grain. He pushed the folks against the wall.”

West also dwelled on the influence other civil rights activists had on King, including his peers and his precursors.

“When you look in the eyes of Martin Luther King, you ought to see the tradition,” he said. “The tradition of a people who were terrorized, traumatized, and stigmatized for 400 years.”

He closed out the ceremony with a plea for unity.

“We are all in this together Brooklyn. Let us never forget our dear brother,” he said.

Reach reporter Matthew Perlman at (718) 260–8310. E-mail him at mperl‌man@c‌ngloc‌al.com. Follow him on Twitter @matthewjperlman.