HARLEM — Mayor Michael Bloomberg was greeted with a chorus of boos at a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day event in Harlem Monday, sparking a testy exchange between Hizzoner and the crowd over progress made on education and crime.
Rev. Al Sharpton’s annual National Action Network public policy forum drew a who’s-who of elected officials to the House of Justice on West 145th Street, who vowed to uphold Dr. King’s legacy by doing more to fight inequality and clamp down on gun violence, which many said has ravaged local communities.
“In spite of the progress we’ve made, there are still too many kids killing kids,” said the mayor, who took the stage to harsh boos from the crowd.
Bloomberg was applauded at several points when he talked about the tragedy of gun violence and the toll it’s taken on communities as well as his push for new education reforms and taking on the teachers union.
“You read about kids that kill senselessly; people sitting on their doorstep, and just getting blown away,” the mayor said. “We have just got to stop this craziness.”
But at times the boos interrupted his speech.
“You wanna hear about the kids, or don’t you?” he said at one point.
"C'mon. If you don't want crime to go down and test scores to go up then we have nothing in common,” he said at another.
“That's what we all should want. That's what Dr. King would have wanted.”
As the mayor finished speaking, one audience member began to chant, “Stop ‘stop and frisk!’" referring to the police department’s policy of stopping and searching individuals, even when they may not be suspects in a crime.
The event was also an opportunity for the presumptive mayoral candidates to connect with black leaders and community activists.
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer drew a standing ovation from many in the room when he called for an end to ‘stop-and-frisk,’ arguing that it has contributed to youth violence by straining relationships with police.
“What we are doing is creating a culture for young men who are losing faith in the people who are supposed to protect them,” said Stringer, early in the afternoon. “This not the way that we’re going to be able to live in the legacy of Dr. King."
City Comptroller John Liu, another presumptive mayoral candidate, who has been embroiled in a campaign finance scandal, drew the loudest applause as he stood to address the crowd.
“If not for [King's] work, I would definitely not be before you today,” said Liu.
Liu also called for more support from the city for women and minority-owned businesses and applauded a deal on new legislation, announced by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn Friday, which would require developers receiving big city subsidies to pay their workers more than minimum wage.
But perhaps most powerful words came from 12-year-old Victoria Pannell, leader of the National Action Network’s youth committee, who said she was deeply disappointed by her generation, which she said has failed to honor Dr. King’s legacy.
“I was...thinking about how painful it must have been for [King] to constantly be called the ‘n,’ word’ over and over again,” she said. “Now we pay for the records that call us the ‘n-word’ over and over again.”
“They struggled so hard to be here,” Pannell said of civil rights leaders, and urged her classmates to “pick up a book and [put] down a gun" and take advantage of the opportunities they have.