Race took center stage Wednesday at the inauguration of Mayor Bill de Blasio, with one minister who peppered his invocation with slavery references comparing New York City to a "plantation," and singer Harry Belafonte decrying racial injustices as "Dickensian."
“Let the plantation called New York City be the city of God, a city set upon the hill, a light shining in darkness,” Rev. Fred Lucas Jr., said during his invocation, according to video posted on the blog site Mediaite
“Elevate our valleys. Make low our mountains. Make our crooked places straight and our rough places smooth. Oh God, oh God, oh God, break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.”
Furthering his slavery analogy, the cleric said:
“Oh God, on this first day of January–the anniversary of the first Emancipation Proclamation–sound forth the trumpets of heaven proclaiming a new Emancipation Proclamation in New York City.
"From your divine leadership, emancipate every New Yorker from the shackles of fear, futility and frustration …. Oh God, end the civil wars and usher in a new Reconstruction Era that builds upon the many successes and achievements of yesterday while proclaiming the beginning of a new beginning.”
The brief speech alarmed some observers, who took to Twitter to denounce the aggressive rhetoric.
"Cleric Fred Lucas Jr. calling NYC a plantation in his 'prayer' is a disgrace," Daily News columnist Linda Stasi tweeted. "Isn't this supposed to be a day of uniting?"
And Akeem Mellis, of the borough of Queens, bashed the speech as loaded with "populist rhetoric with policies that won't work," showing "an ignorance of 20 years of progress in NYC."
Civil rights activist and singer Belafonte, who also spoke at the event, took the judicial system to task for racial injustices .
"Changing the stop-and-frisk law is … only the tip of the iceberg in fixing our deeply Dickensian justice system,” Belafonte said, referring to the anti-crime policy de Blasio vigorously campaigned against
It's expected de Blasio will drop the city's appeal
of court ruling that found the tactic unconstitutional.
One of the policy's strongest supporters, outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg, sat just a few feet away during Belafonte's condemnation.
In his prepared remarks, de Blasio also referred to the policy outgoing Police Commissioner Ray Kelly has touted as helping to keep crime levels low
"Public safety is a prerequisite for the thriving neighborhoods that create opportunity in this city. So is respect for civil liberties," de Blasio said.
"The two are not mutually exclusive; in fact we must have both."
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