Former City Council candidate Whitney Hu is being sued for defamation in State Supreme Court by a Brooklyn rapper and activist.
Hu is now the campaign manager for mayoral candidate Dianne Morales.
Israel Burns, aka Ace Burns, says in court papers filed Saturday that Hu libeled and slandered him during last year’s protests against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, by saying he was “actively working with the police” and is a “known aggressor and abuser.”
Burns was arrested during the protests last June after threatening, during a live interview on Fox News, to set Manhattan’s Diamond District ablaze if Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio didn’t come to speak with demonstrators at the Barclays Center the night of June 6. He was charged with making “terroristic threats.”
Hu “began her harassment,” Burns says, on June 8 when she tweeted a picture of him with the caption “NYC: this man is actively working with police. Be careful marching around him. Don’t let him guide the movement. He kept trying to force us to the bridge.” Burns said in the lawsuit that he was leading a march at the time to McCarren Park, instead of to the unspecified bridge, and that he didn’t know Hu nor did he see her at the protest.
Two days later, he said Hu tweeted a picture of a man she claimed to be Burns posing for a group photo with an NYPD basketball jersey on, which she said “confirmed” him as an undercover cop. Burns says that the picture is not of him, and that the tweet was an “extreme and outrageous racially disparaging attack on part of Defendant Hu.”
Speaking with Brooklyn Paper, Hu said that she had not sent the tweet including the picture of the NYPD basketball team, but said that that had been someone who quote tweeted her and that she told the person to take it down, which they did. The image Burns submitted as evidence cuts off the avatar and handle of the poster.
Burns, who is representing himself in the lawsuit against Hu, is a former attorney who changed careers after being disbarred in 2017, opting to try his luck at rapping. Burns’ discography includes two full-length albums, “Koinda: Vol. 3” and “Existential as F—.” Top hits include “Black Berry Whine” and “Land of the Kush.” He has also recorded folk music on acoustic guitar, with songs such as “Total & Complete D— Hole.”
Burns says that Hu’s tweets hurt his standing both as a rapper and as an activist. He speculates that he was dropped from a planned photoshoot for I-D Magazine focusing on activism against racial injustice due to the tweets.
He also said that a rally he organized in remembrance of Yusef Hawkins, which he claims “would have drawn well over 1,000 community members and activists from around New York City” in ordinary circumstances, was attended by a paltry 50 people, a fact he also blamed on Hu.
In October, Burns says he attended the Community Activist Summit at Cadman Plaza, where he handed out chocolates and a leaflet which pushed back on the charges that he was an undercover cop, but was soon asked to leave by Grace Nam, Hu’s co-defendant, and others who said that Burns’ “victims” were present.
He said he later learned that Hu was scheduled to speak at the event, but left before she could take the mic. When Burns attempted to perform his song “Everyone’s a Criminal,” a crowd assembled around him and shouted him down, he said. He said that afterwards, Nam on several occasions posted updates on social media warning activists if Burns would be present at an action.
In a statement, Hu said that she and Nam have been the target of a harassment campaign by Burns, including doxxing and using racist and sexist epithets, including referring to her as a “counter-revolutionary witch” and as a “Chinese operative sent to destroy Black leaders.” She is in the process of finding an attorney to fight the suit.
“On the behalf of myself and Grace Nam, we are in the process of finding legal counsel, and currently not ready to go fully on record. However, there are a lot of inaccuracies in this lawsuit and would like to state that we acted only to protect the Black and Brown women who have been harmed by Mr. Israel “Ace” Burns,” Hu told Brooklyn Paper in a statement. “We have since faced non-stop harassment from Mr. Burns but out of our political beliefs, we have both refused involvement from law enforcement and the legal justice system. We are deeply frustrated that Mr. Burns has forced us into a legal process instead of an accountability and reconciliation process with the women he has harmed.”
Hu, founder of South Brooklyn Mutual Aid, launched her campaign for City Council District 38, encompassing Sunset Park, Red Hook, and parts of South Slope, Borough Park, and Windsor Terrace, in March of 2020 but quickly suspended the campaign as the coronavirus pandemic enveloped New York, focusing instead on mutual aid. She relaunched in July and ran on the race’s left flank, but dropped out in December to focus on her mutual aid work.
The next month, she became interim campaign manager for Morales, who’s running on the left flank of the mayoral race. She is now the permanent campaign manager, a position she’d held since March.
Asked for comment, the Morales campaign referred Brooklyn Paper back to Hu, who noted that she was not involved with the campaign during the time period laid out in the suit.