When Donovan J. Richards, member of the New York City Council representing the 31st district, led his constituents on a march through the streets of Far Rockaway Tuesday evening, he was joined with a contingent of his Jewish neighbors who came to show the solidarity and unity of the community.
“When the Jewish community was attacked, he stood with us,” tweeted Pesach, “And tonight [we stood] with him.” And stand with him they did.
Before the estimated crowd of 2,000 people began marching, Yanki Brach, a respected member of the Jewish community addressed the crowd, saying, “We share their prayer, and we do understand their fear, and we hold all of them dear, for they are our neighbors.”
Mr. Richards set the tone for the march by exhorting the crowd to march peacefully and not cause any mayhem along the way. The harmonious theme was reinforced as he told the marchers, “We have our Jewish brothers and sisters here to show solidarity. We cannot do this alone. We are united as a community, and we are united as a people.”
In an exclusive interview with Hamodia, Mr. Richards explained that when the organizers of the march, the youth advocacy group Rockaway Youth Task Force, reached out to him, he knew that it was important to show how to protest peacefully, yet at the same time agitate for justice and change. “I call it peace and purpose,” he said. “We wanted to show the country that here in Far Rockaway, we can talk about our pain and lead the way. I have a good relationship with the NYPD, especially since I’m the chairman of the Public Safety Committee, and I communicated with the commander of the precinct to make sure it worked out well.
“It was important to set the proper tone, especially since we just helped attract $400 million in investments to develop a 200 thousand square foot retail market and we are building new housing. I told all those involved that if you came here to destroy the community, we will take you on, so take it somewhere else. If you’re here to channel your energy for change, then you are welcome.”
Councilman Richards explained that he’s worked hard to create mutual respect between the African-American residents and the Jewish community in Far Rockaway. “When our Jewish neighbors were suffering from a rash of hate crimes, I reached out to them to offer my assistance,” he said. “So, I was honored when Richard Altebe reached out to me and expressed his desire to join in our march. In the civil rights movement we were natural allies, and I’d like to bring us back together. This is an opportunity to recreate the coalition for us to work hand in hand for our mutual civil rights.”
The march was punctuated with chants of, “This is what a community looks like!” Sure enough, the sense of solidarity permeated the demonstration, and it remained peaceful as they winded their way through the streets of the neighborhood to express their commitment to continue the battle for justice.
In preparation for the march, community activists of Far Rockaway coordinated with Captain Eric A. Robinson of the 101st Precinct of the NYPD, in which they cleared the path of the march and the area of personal vehicles, which in the words of Captain Robinson “took a piece off my table which allowed my cops to work yesterday. It was a testament to the people of this neighborhood.”
When meeting with members of the Jewish community afterwards who came to show their appreciation with platters of refreshments, Captain Robinson reported that due to the cooperation of all involved, the march went off without any major confrontation. “There were some troublemakers who try to get in at the end, but the people there shunted them away.”
Rabbi Baruch Rothman, the Director of Institutional Advancement of Yeshiva Darchei Torah told Hamodia that the yeshiva ramped up the security around the campus in anticipation of the protest. “Whenever there is a need, we bring in a security company to provide for the safety of the event. We have an ongoing relationship with a company which we bring in for our dinner and on other occasions, and with the heightened tension we engaged them to provide an extra measure of protection. Our staff remained with them to guide them, and baruch Hashem it all went off without a hitch.”
“I feel that it’s time for the African-American and Jewish leaders to join together in public, not just behind closed doors, to express our unity and bond,” Donovan Richards said, “It was meaningful that we were able to show this this week, and we hope to continue with this in the future.”