Defiance in Times Square

Make text smaller Make text larger

Trump's insults loom large over MLK Day 'Rally Against Racism'


  • Hundreds of protesters, many of them Haitian-Americans, gathered in Times Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for an anti-racism rally following reports of President Donald Trump's disparaging comments about Haiti and other countries. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • Protesters gathered in Times Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day for an anti-racism rally following reports of President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Haiti and other countries. Photo: Michael Garofalo

  • Anti-racism rally in Times Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day following reports of President Donald Trump’s disparaging comments about Haiti and other countries. Photo: Michael Garofalo

By Michael Garofalo and Douglas Feiden

When President Donald Trump uttered the vulgarity heard 'round the world, he enraged the 55-nation African Union and outraged scores of other states from the Caribbean and Latin America to Europe and Asia. But his reference to Haiti, El Salvador and unspecified African nations as “shithole countries” had a painful resonance closer to home: roughly 7.5 percent of the city's 3.32 million foreign-born residents hail from those lands.

Hundreds of New Yorkers, natives and immigrants alike, took to the streets of Times Square on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to protest the president's disparaging comments. A crowd filled two blocks along Broadway south of 42nd Street for the Jan. 15 “Rally Against Racism” organized in the aftermath of the president's remarks, which he uttered during a Jan. 11 meeting on immigration policy with lawmakers and were widely reported the following day.

Despite the anger and sadness felt by many in attendance, the demonstration took on an almost festive atmosphere at times. A band played from the stage between speeches from politicians and activists, as protesters clad in the blue and red of the Haitian flag danced and sang along, as though to defy the spirit of Trump's words.

“We're here to bring awareness to all the Haitians that have fought to be here to get a better opportunity for all of us,” said Haitian-American demonstrator Sarah Rene. “Trump is trying to bring us down, but we're here. We're here to be about something better.”

The crowd's size and diversity conveyed the broad swaths of New York's immigrant population born in the nations Trump referenced as he questioned why the U.S. would accept more immigrants from “shithole countries.” The city's Haitian-born population of 91,595 makes up 2.8 percent of its foreign-born tally, for instance, while the 31,624 Salvadoran-born immigrants living here comprise about 1 percent, a January 2017 report by city Comptroller Scott Stringer found.

Meanwhile, around 4.6 percent of New Yorkers born abroad – some 145,000 people – come from at least 15 countries in Africa, according to the survey.

“We're not going to let him hurt us,” said demonstrator Nicole Vanible, who came from Harlem to attend to protest with her Haitian-born husband. “I cried for two days after I heard. I was so happy to come out here today.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio implored the crowd to consider their forebears experiences in coming to the United States. “Some came willingly, some did not. But we all came from a different place,” de Blasio said, adding, “Let's live with the dignity of treating the new generation of immigrants just as we wish our fathers and grandfathers and great-grandfathers were treated.”

Newly elected City Council Speaker Corey Johnson had a simple reaction to Trump's words. “He's a racist,” Johnson said. “That's it.”

“The silver lining is that he has awoken a sleeping giant, and that is the people,” Johnson added. “That is immigrants and women and the undocumented and LGBT people and people of color and poor people and union members. We are in this struggle together.”

During the rally, Trump took to Twitter to claim that Sen. Dick Durbin, who attended the meeting and subsequently criticized the president's remarks as “vile and racist,” had “totally misrepresented what was said” at the meeting.

The words and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. were invoked often by speakers at the Times Square protest, who included Reps. Hakeem Jeffries and Nydia Velazquez, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Public Advocate Letitia James, among others.

“There comes a time when silence is betrayal,” read one King quote on a sign waved by a protester.

Before the rally, tweets from pols, advocates and commentators responding to Trump's politically toxic remarks came fast and furious:

* Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer:

“The borough I represent includes Liberty and Ellis Island. In case you didn't know, #45's comments are not who we are as New Yorkers or as Americans. These islands remind us of what our country has always been about. Our diversity makes us strong. #HereToStay”

* Abe Foxman, former head of the Anti-Defamation League:

“POTUS, it matters not what countries we came from to America. The sum total of our contributions made and make America great!”

* Conservative polemicist Bill Kristol, the editor-at-large of The Weekly Standard:

“Two weeks ago, a 26-year old soldier raced repeatedly into a burning Bronx apartment building, saving four people before he died in the flames. His name was Pvt. Emmanuel Mensah and he immigrated from Ghana, a country Donald Trump apparently thinks produces very subpar immigrants.”

* City Comptroller Scott Stringer:

“This is outrageous, sad, xenophobic, heartbreaking... And it's yet another reminder about why we need to fight back against hate and discrimination everywhere ... starting with our own White House.”

* U.S. Rep Nydia Velázquez, whose Brooklyn district includes hundreds of Salvadorans:

“@realDonaldTrump's comments in the Oval Office lay bare the ugly truth of his disgraceful, small-minded, cold-hearted vision for America. Such shameful statements are completely unbefitting of the office of the President. We are a better nation than this”

Make text smaller Make text larger



Helping the feral cats of Chinatown

Nonprofit TNR Utopia teaches the public how to trap, neuter and return stray felines to the wild NYC streets

Read more »

‘Weird, interesting and beautiful’

A young fashion designer with talent and vision creates unique clothes for working women

Read more »

Google opens free learning center in Chelsea

Workshops include lessons on coding, building websites, online marketing and how to create a compelling resume

Read more »

Mapping placard abuse

City Council data maps 311 complaints about parking permit misuse, most of which result in no action

Read more »

Nureyev: without precedent or equal

A new documentary captures the extraordinary life and art of the dancer for whom the world truly was a stage

Read more »


Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Neighborhood Newsletters


City Arts News
Telling the story of Auschwitz
  • Apr 16, 2019
Local News
The lessons of denim day
  • Apr 16, 2019
Local News
Mapping placard abuse
  • Apr 18, 2019
Local News
CPC passes mechanical voids proposal
  • Apr 17, 2019