Tensions Flare Up On 4th Night Of Protests In NYC

WCBS 880 Newsroom
May 31, 2020 - 11:41 pm
Times Square protest

Steve Burns/WCBS 880


NEW YORK (WCBS 880) – Protests over the death of George Floyd in police custody stretched into a fourth day in New York City on Sunday after there was citywide vandalism, including torched police cars, and hundreds of arrests in protests that flared up last week and continued through the weekend.

The largest protests were at the Barclays Center, Williamsburg and Prospect Park in Brooklyn, as well as in the East Village, Times Square, Bryant Park and Union Square in Manhattan. There were various other gatherings across the city, including in Jamaica, Queens.

Protesters blocked traffic in some areas, but tensions and violence didn't flare up until well into the night.

The Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges were closed around 9 p.m. as protesters march their way across the spans. Photos and video show protesters marching through the streets amid a heavy police presence and boarded up businesses.

Hundreds of protesters took to Times Square, many of them kneeling on the street as police watched on, while in Brooklyn hundreds more walked through the streets of Williamsburg.

WCBS 880's Steve Burns followed a group of protesters that marched from Times Square to City Hall to Foley Square before making its way over the Brooklyn Bridge over to the Barclays Center.

Burns reports the protest had been remarkably peaceful and there were a couple of flashpoints when police tried to get their vans through the crowd near City Hall. Some protesters kept the peace by clearing a path for those vans and keeping demonstrators out of the way.

The organizers of the protest said they are doing everything they possibly can to keep this peaceful. Anytime there is even a semblance of a flare up between a protester and a police officer, someone comes in to diffuse the situation and chants of "peaceful protest" rise up.

Burns reported there's been a different response and strategy from the NYPD with only a few dozen officers, largely observing the crowd and staying behind.

In Foley Square, after about 15 minutes of speeches, Burns reports protesters started chanting for the NYPD to join them in taking a knee. The officers then knelt with protesters in a show of solidarity.

As the group arrived at Barclays Center, there were fewer police officers stationed in front of the subway entrance than there was the previous night. 

Outside the arena, police leadership and protest organizers started talking, shook hands and then were photographed raising their arms up together, showing that there was a concerted effort to keep things peaceful, Burns reported.

Videos posted to social media later in the night showed that protest outside the Barclays went south, with violent clashes breaking out between police and demonstrators. Police were seen hitting some protesters with batons and using what appeared to be pepper spray on others.

Meanwhile, Union Square was the scene of more destruction.

At East 12th and Broadway, a car caught fire, leading police in riot gear to confront protesters, pushing them back and dispersing the crowd quickly. A heavy police presence was also seen outside CVS at 14th Street and 5th Avenue.

There were some tense moments which appeared to bring the night to an abrupt end. Police pushed protesters from two ends onto about East 12th Street and Third Avenue, essentially pinning demonstrators in on one block. As a bottle arched through the air landing in the police pen, officers began charging, chasing protesters in all different directions, and that dispersed the crowd, breaking the group up, Burns reported.

Trouble also broke out in SoHo where there were reports of objects being thrown at officers on Canal Street. Looting was also reported at a Canada Goose store in SoHo. Several store windows were broken along Broadway.

Mayor Bill de Blasio earlier said he had no plans to impose a curfew Sunday, unlike other major U.S. cities, and smaller cities throughout the state. 

De Blasio said city police showed “tremendous restraint overall” during the weekend’s protests, but promised an investigation of video showing two police cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators on a Brooklyn street.

Hours after he spoke, demonstrations resumed. Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Brooklyn, chanting “No justice, no peace,” and “Black lives matter,” while making occasional insulting hand gestures at a line of police officers protecting the Barclays Center.

Marchers chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” during a separate rally in Queens. In Jamaica, NYPD officers were seen kneeling with protesters to cheers as the names of black men and women who have died in police custody were read.

"We need more of this, to see and hear each other, to work together, to recognize that our differences are our strength," NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said in response.

On Saturday, largely peaceful protests around the city gave way to scattered clashes between police and protesters later in the evening. Demonstrators smashed shop windows, threw objects at officers, set police vehicles on fire and blocked roads.

There were multiple complaints about police unnecessarily shoving or bludgeoning protesters and spraying crowds with chemicals. 

The NYPD said 345 people were arrested, 33 officers were injured and 27 police vehicles were damaged or destroyed by fire. There were no major injuries reported. Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said some peaceful demonstrations were “hijacked” by people with violent intent.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams told WCBS 880 that he was troubled by these outside instigators.

"What troubled me the most is that there's clearly a group of outside professional agitators that turn the historical peaceful demonstrations in New York and use everything from Molotov cocktails, to bricks and stones and attempted to really aggravate the tension between police and civilians," Adams said. "We need to be clear that we're not going to allow our city to burn, but we're also going to allow people to have the right to protest in a peaceful manner."

Adams was out on the streets in Brooklyn around 1:30 a.m. on Flatbush Avenue and saw damaged windows on businesses and vandalized police vehicles. 

"The energy at that time, I believe that many of the outside agitators thought that they would be unnoticed and hide inside the crowd," Adams said. "Organizers have started to look at some of the people who have been trying to aggravate and take the attention off of the righteous call to address policing in our city. These marchers are not going to stand by and watch them do that."

Adams expects the protests to continue for a couple of nights, but the question is how will they play out.

"We don't want our night sky to be lit up by fires of police vehicles," he said.

NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller says organizers of anarchist groups began raising money for bail, recruiting medical teams to deploy for violent interactions with police and they plan to target high end stores.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the National Guard is on standby and that hundreds of additional troopers are being made available in Buffalo and Rochester.

“We expect additional protests tonight and we’re preparing for such,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing.

The governor also said state Attorney General Letitia James’s investigation into actions by NYPD officers and protesters will include any protests held throughout the weekend.

Cleanup was under way Sunday morning in New York City, which is still under a lockdown enacted two months ago when it became the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.

At least five burned-out NYPD vehicles that remained near Manhattan’s Union Square were towed early Sunday afternoon.

A handful of protesters rallied peacefully in the square, holding Black Lives Matter signs and giving speeches denouncing police violence while families were picnicking nearby.

Similar protests flared around the nation in response to the Minnesota death of George Floyd. Floyd, who was black, died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck until he stopped breathing.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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