PARK SLOPE – New York’s senior senator doesn’t have to look very far to see the frustration he’s generated among progressives.
Hundreds gathered across the street from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s home Tuesday evening, castigating him for what demonstrators say is his caving to congressional Republicans on a recently approved border funding bill.
Outside Prospect Park, a stone’s throw away from the Park Slope apartment building where the New York Senator lives, a left-wing group-led protest formed, with New Yorkers expressing their discontent with the lawmaker and urging Schumer to reverse course on what they believe are his triangulating, risk-averse ways.
The crowd, hoisting various signs, chanted “Close the Camps” and “Ditch Mitch [McConnell]” throughout the 45-minute event.
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“We are here today because it is so important that the government get itself together and close the camps,” Lisa Raymond-Tolan, co-founder of Indivisible Nation BK, the group that organized the protest, said to the crowd. She added that “not one more dollar” should go toward family detention and deportation.
Last Wednesday, Schumer, along with the majority of Democrats, voted for a border aid plan that increased space and funding by $4.6 billion dedicated to migrant detention facilities. The move spurred blowback from progressives, who believe the spending package lacked provisions to protect detained migrants.
“The Senate Democrats did us a huge disservice,” said progressive Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington.
The Congressional Hispanic Caucus called the stamp of approval “unacceptable” and a “betrayal.”
Tuesday’s demonstration follows new revelations and pictures that have emerged which have have shed light on inhumane conditions at detention camps at the border, where some Congressional Democrats visited in recent days.
Senate Democrats and Schumer, in Raymond-Tolan’s telling, had “voted in favor of a weak bill that included unnecessary funding for ICE, insufficient humanitarian aid and minimal accountability requirements.”
“We would like to put pressure on our senator to do whatever is necessary to release these immigrants from these terrible conditions in these border camps,” Susan Bennett, a Park Slope resident, told Bklyner.
“I’m just incredibly sad about the whole situation,” said Tsuh Yang, a grant writer who lives in Prospect Park South. “That’s not how we should be as a country. It’s just indecent, it’s inhumane.”
He added, “I think the Democrats need to take a tougher line about cooperating with this government.”
Alex Petti, an IT worker for a health-care company who lives in Manhattan, said the “disturbing images” he has seen from the detention centers was the catalyst for him joining the protest.
Why had Schumer made the decision on funding the bill?
“Senator Schumer is a coward,” Petti said. “Senator Schumer is trying to split directly down the center of the Democratic Party and he’s basically putting politics over children. He’s afraid to take a stand for immigrants, because he’s afraid of how it’s going to come off to white moderates.”
Robert Jackson, an education equity researcher who lives in East Flatbush, said because Schumer is a white man who has for years been a powerful politician, he is detached from the ramifications of his decisions, which allows him to take a political rather than a moral stand.
“He doesn’t feel it. Everything is a calculated decision for him,” he said, adding that Schumer was trying to fend off political blowback. “It’s easy to mitigate risk when you’re a white man who’s been on top for a long time.”
“He’s a fucking coward,” he added. “He’s acting this way because it’s easy.”
Tom Angotti, a retired Hunter College professor, called the detention camps a “horrendous violation of human rights and U.S. law.”
“It seems to me that he’s looking to be able to make deals with the rest of the Senate where no deals are possible,” Angotti, who lives in Windsor Terrace, said. “You’re talking about a Republican leadership that is determined to do whatever it can get away with doing and Chuck Schumer isn’t brave enough to stand up and say ‘no.'”
Though people who gathered next to Prospect Park for the protest cast doubt on Schumer’s decision making, the demonstration’s leaders were hopeful they could affect his future behavior.
Liat Olenick, co-president of Indivisible Nation BK, said “constant nudging” from progressive advocates had caused the senator to move left on issues like voting no on President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees and on New York State climate legislation.
“There are areas where he has moved because of the work of activists, but he definitely needs to do a lot more,” she said.
After this story was published, Senator Schumer spokesperson Angelo Roefaro issued the following statement:
“Senator Schumer is deeply concerned with the unacceptable conditions at the border caused by Trump’s callous policies and commends New Yorkers who are raising awareness about it. He is pushing to do away with the horrible for-profit detention centers and delivering the resources to improve the deplorable conditions at non-profit and government-run shelters. He helped secure desperately-needed humanitarian aid to HHS and additional funding to safely house all those who are being processed, while inserting guardrails to prevent the funds from being used for ICE beds or the wall. He believes this humanitarian crisis demands commonsense solutions, including allowing people to apply for asylum in their home country, increased security assistance to Central American countries, and an increased number of immigration judges to speed cases.”