The title of Congressmember Hakeem Jeffries’ State of the District address was “Courage Under Fire” — in honor of the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama — and by the end of his speech at Long Island University on Thursday, January 29, many of the hundreds of residents in attendance certainly felt inspired.
“I work in an immigrant community, so it’s a challenge [for anyone] to touch on things that affects everyone, but he did: on police, housing, employment and immigration,” said Lovly, a Canarsie mom and community advocate. “It isn’t all talk [either] because he is very practical and has worked with us on social needs and real life issues that Brooklyn residents face.”
Olanike Alabi, one of the democratic district leaders of the 57th Assembly District, agreed. “His speech was a call to action,” she said.
That was the goal, said Jeffries, whose State of the District address focused on domestic issues such as housing.
“We must make sure our laws work for, not against, public housing” by working to make sure Section 3 housing requirements are attached to all repair and other projects on New York City Housing Authority projects in Brooklyn and the city — that would require 30 percent of all jobs to be set aside for residents when federal money is used for a project.
“Work has already begun on $108 million [of work] on buildings in Coney Island, after which we’ll take it on the road and make progress in Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Brownsville and Canarsie, so we can bring economic vitality to life.”
Jeffries also said he would “urge [Mayor] Bill de Blasio to build affordable housing, protect Mitchell Lama protections, and pass legislation to ensure that all new housing projects are at least 50 percent affordable because we deserve nothing less.”
Currently, an 80-20 standard (80 percent market-rate, 20 percent affordable) is applied to most new housing developments in the city.
Fort Greene resident Leisl Rennie was glad Jeffries spoke about affordable housing because she is “trying to invest in a condo and it’s kind of tough. There are great flyers [from community organizations that offer help], but the problem is there is not enough building of affordable units. I’ve been working for 50 years and paying rent for a long time, so I would like to buy.”
Jeffries noted that public safety in NYCHA complexes also overlaps with the larger issue of police accountability and NYPD-community relationships. He cited fires in Coney Island Houses to the stabbing of children in East New York and the shooting of Akai Gurley in Brownsville as being part of “a rough year for NYCHA.”
“We have a broken justice system” that claims both police officers and citizens as victims,” Jeffries said, noting that he has introduced the Slain Officer Support Act to help “honor their service and sacrifice, and the sacrifices of their families.
“We’ve got issues to work out, like the problems of stop-and-frisk and the broken windows philosophy, which don’t make us safer,” he said. “They target nuisance-like activities, like riding a bike on the sidewalk, drinking from an open container on your front porch, and selling loose cigarettes.”
“Some say abandoning [these policies] would lead to crime skyrocketing, but in the year since a judge ruled against stop-and-frisk, crime has continued to go down,” he said to loud applause. “Defenders of stop and frisk were wrong then and defenders of broken windows are wrong now.”
Jeffries also stated that “in the next two weeks” he would introduce legislation to “increase the transparency of the grand jury process” and “make the use of a chokehold in an instance that results in death of a civilian illegal under civil rights law.
“I believe in equal protection under the law because black lives matter, white lives matter, and Asian, Latino, Christian, Muslim, Jewish and all lives matter,” he declared.
Regarding immigration reform, Jeffries said he believes “President Obama did the right, responsible and lawful thing to do by deporting felons, not families” and taking other steps towards reform through signing a controversial executive order that Jeffries said was necessary because “Congress never appropriated the funds [and] process [themselves].”
“Obama is doing a great job,” Jeffries said, adding that “over the next two years I will be there standing by him to make sure he goes strong.”