New Yorkers protesting a grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson marched from Union Square to Harlem last night, taking over some of the city’s busiest streets and commandeering the Brooklyn and Triborough Bridges.
The unrest began in Union Square. Shortly after 9 p.m., several hundred demonstrators who had gathered there ceased their chants of “Black lives matter” and “No racist police” and stood silently watching their cell phones as St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch began a press conference in Ferguson, Missouri.
As it became apparent that Wilson would not be charged for killing Michael Brown, calls of “No justice, no peace” and “fuck the police” rang out, to the disgruntlement of some who observed that Brown’s family had requested four-and-a-half minutes of silence after the announcement. Here’s video of that moment:
After metal barricades were toppled, the crowd left Union Square chanting “Justice for Mike Brown — if we don’t get it, shut it down.” With just a handful of police officers heading up the march, protesters easily overtook University Place, turned west on idyllic East Ninth Street and headed north up Sixth Avenue, where they commandeered all four lanes.
On Seventh Avenue near West 35th Street, tourists snapped photos from a double-decker bus.
Hossam Khodair, a cabbie who immigrated from Egypt 18 years ago, gleefully filmed protesters as they snaked in between stalled cars such as his own. “It doesn’t matter,” he said of the fact that traffic had been at a stand-still for five minutes. “It’s about freedom, that’s why we stay in this country. We came here to have real freedom, not just fake one. Everybody has to say a word.”
As the march entered Times Square, protesters got raised fists from Elmo and Mickey Mouse.
According to a tweet from our colleague Jada Yuan, rapper Q-Tip was also on the scene.
Though the police presence was nowhere near what it was at the height of Occupy Wall Street, much less comparable to the mayhem that unfolded in Ferguson, the protest was not without incident. One person was arrested in Times Square after Police Commissioner William Bratton was sprayed with fake blood, the Daily News reported. After convening at Duffy Square on the north end of Times Square, a large group headed south, eventually to walk over the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge.
We followed a separate group of a few hundred people who commandeered Columbus Circle’s rotary, then passed Lincoln Center as it headed further north.
Once in Harlem, the crowd took over Frederick Douglass and Malcolm X Boulevards and chanted “join us” to the few passersby who were on the streets past 11 p.m., then headed east on 125th Street toward the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge.
At an on-ramp to the Triborough, protesters heeded cries of “Take the bridge!” and strolled onto its roadway without resistance, chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” as they tried to make their way to the Bronx.
Here’s video footage of the takeover:
This is when police finally showed some muscle: several NYPD vans that had been casually trailing the march zipped ahead of it to form a barrier that prevented protesters from getting past the bridge’s tollbooths. “You’ve made your point,” said an officer who ordered demonstrators to turn around.
For about half an hour, with traffic blocked in both directions, around 200 protesters faced off against a similar number of officers on the eerily desolate bridge.
Some staged a sit-in; others yelled obscenities at police officers poised behind orange netting.
For the most part, however, the face-off was surprisingly laid-back. One young man rode a skateboard in circles, clearly delighted to have the bridge to himself; a young woman danced with a hula hoop.
But then the show was over. After being given five minutes to turn back or be arrested for disorderly conduct, the remaining protesters headed back to Harlem to meet a small splinter group.
As it turned out, that group had been mostly dispersed after a bottle was thrown at police officers, according to a tweet by Bassam Khawaja, editor-in-chief of the Columbia Human Rights Law Review.
Earlier, in Union Square, a pair of musicians had sung “One Love.” Coming off the bridge, the sing-along was to “Lean On Me.”