While thousands of New Yorkers filled Washington Square Park on Wednesday evening to denounce President Donald Trump's executive orders threatening undocumented immigrants —and the cities that pledge to safe-harbor them—more than 500 people gathered on the Avenue C Plaza in Kensington, Brooklyn to dub their neighborhood a 'Hate-Free Zone.'
Following a similar action in Jackson Heights, Queens, last month, Kensington residents pledged to collectively resist Washington's efforts to ban swaths of immigrants from the country, and deport those who live here. On Wednesday, President Trump signed an order intended to withhold federal funding from "sanctuary cities" that limit cooperation between police and federal immigration authorities, and another for the construction of a wall along the United States border with Mexico. This week, he's expected to sign another barring refugees from Middle Eastern countries.
With its large working-class Bangladeshi and Mexican communities, Kensington is in the crosshairs. "Neutrality is compliance and complacency," said Dania Rajendra, a Kensington resident and member of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, in a statement. "Our decision on which side we are on will decide who gets to stay here tomorrow."
Wednesday's rally was organized by Desis Rising Up and Moving [DRUM], a grassroots organization that works with Southeast Asian workers and youth. Director Fahd Ahmed said on Thursday that he hopes the zone will have practical implications. For one, regular self-defense classes and bystander intervention training, "particularly for Muslim women and day laborers who work out on the street," he said.
Ahmed also hopes to organize an anti-raid response network, so that Kensington residents will be ready to quickly warn their neighbors in the event of Immigration and Customs Enforcement intervention.
"The basic idea is if a raid is about to happen, people notify an information network," he explained. "In the long term we are playing with the idea of a neighborhood patrol that is geared to be particularly sensitive to ICE raids, police abuse, and bigotry towards Muslim women and queer people."
Following the rally, residents marched to Church Avenue, chanting in English, Bangla, and Spanish: "No Ban, No Wall, Our Cities Stand Tall!"
DRUM hopes that yesterday's action will inspire other neighborhoods in the city with particularly large immigrant communities, including Parkchester in the Bronx, and Ozone Park and Richmond Hill in Queens. Mayor de Blasio told reporters Wednesday that he would bring legal action if Washington were to attempt to cut funding from sanctuary cities.