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New York City Councilman Sits During Pledge Of Allegiance

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- A New York City councilman refused to stand for the Pledge of Allegiance Wednesday to protest racial injustice in the United States.

Council member Jumaane Williams, D-Brooklyn, sat during the pledge to make a "private protest public" during a City Council meeting. The rest of the City Council members stood and recited the pledge.

"In good conscience I couldn't continue to protest quietly without using it to highlight the plight of so many. As a person who loves the country of his birth, believes in it and is privileged to have reached a modicum of success in his chosen field, I believe it is my duty to do all I can to raise the voice of those who feel voiceless and who struggle every day," Williams posted on Instagram.

Williams told CBS2's Tracee Carrasco that it has been a "personal protest of mine for most of my life."

"Particularly in my position as a City Council member representing some of those communities, I think I have to do all that I can and a non-violent protest is a great way to do that," Williams said. "I'm no less patriotic, so I reject all of those notions that somehow the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, are to the sole definition of patriotism."

Williams said in a statement he is doing this protest in solidarity with San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick, who is refusing to stand for the national anthem.

"I am choosing to recommit to this personal protest in solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, who has bravely decided to kneel down during the national anthem in tribute to oppressed Black Americans. I only hope that local professional athletes will be inspired by this show of strength and join Colin in his protest," Williams said. "This type of non-violent protest is not disrespectful as some have suggested. He deserves support, not criticism for his actions. What does it say about our country when there is a national outrage over an athlete sitting out the national anthem, but the same outrage isn't expressed when a young Black man is killed for no reason."

Kaepernick has refused to stand for the anthem all season in protest of police brutality and racial oppression in the United States.

Williams also cited the pay raise for NYPD Officer Daniel Pantaleo, who put Eric Garner in a chokehold before he died. According to the New York Daily News, Pantaleo made $119,996 in fiscal year 2016, which is $20,000 more than he was making before he was placed on modified duty following Garner's death in July 2014.

"This man, who murdered Eric Garner, was not only not prosecuted or punished for his crime, he was rewarded with increased pay," Williams said. "Where is the justice in that, especially as we struggle with issues of transparency when it comes to police records, including Panteleo's, and are still fighting to have a vote on the widely supported Right to Know Act."

Williams continued, "We are at swelling point in this country. Non-violent protest is in the best tradition in this country. History approves of those who fought for justice even if they were not supported at the time. From boycotts, to the iconic image of the Black power fist up at the Olympics; from marches to sit-ins, many  romanticize these hard fights and think about what they would do if we were there. It's time now for us all to do what we can, with where we are and with what we have. At minimum, we can support those who are trying to do just that."

City Council member Eric Ulrich, R-Queens, believes that an official meeting is not the place to make such a statement.

"I think it is very disrespectful," Ulrich said. "It sends the wrong message to our children and, quite frankly, it's un-American."

Residents in Williams' district were split about the councilman's protest.

"It's a slap in the face to Americans, people who died for this country," one person said.

Another said, "I don't oppose what he's done because again that's his right. Not exactly what I would have done."

Williams said he will continue to sit during the pledge during meetings, but outside of that, it will be a case-by-case basis.

(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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