As New York City recovered from a second night of widespread looting and destruction in the midst of protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd, Mayor de Blasio announced this morning that an 8pm curfew would remain in effect through Sunday. The move comes after a night of peaceful protest mixed with general disorder during which nearly 700 were arrested. That number is likely to rise as processing continues, said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Yesterday’s protests began at 3pm in Times Square, in front of the NYPD substation. Organizers, who stood on barricades elevated above the crowd, urged hundreds of demonstrators to stay peaceful while marching. “Fuck the cycle,” they said, “They’re going to make us look like the problem.”
But by the time last night’s hastily imposed 11pm curfew fell, some areas of the city had already devolved into a cat-and-mouse game between police officers and looters. In midtown, several luxury retailers were attacked. Bedford + Bowery witnessed a small group pulling the plywood off of the storied Bergdorf Goodman department store and smashing its front window with a hammer. Downtown, the East Village was once again subjected to looting, with the windows of a Starbucks, FedEx Office, and the Gap smashed along Astor Place.
As with last night’s mayhem in Soho and along Bowery, however, the looting was preceded and accompanied by peaceful protest. Despite a heavy police presence, evident confrontations between police and protesters earlier in the day were limited. When a citywide curfew was announced at 3:45pm by Governor Cuomo in a radio interview, the crowd in Times Square erupted in chants of “Black Lives Matter” and repeated George Floyd’s name at the urging of the organizers. The march started moving downtown on Broadway, with police in riot gear lining the route.
At Grand Central Terminal, police barricaded the doors, while MTA buses honked in support of those flooding the streets. Commuters– some of whom said they were healthcare workers– crowded outside the entrance of the station, demanding to be let inside. By the time the march reached Union Square, it was thousands strong. It culminated in a rally at Washington Square Park, near New York University, at 6pm. At that point, police scanners estimated the crowd at 5,000, according to the Instagram account @justiceforgeorgenyc, which follows the protests. Chief of Department of the NYPD, Terence Monahan, was photographed taking a knee alongside activists.
Standing on the park’s fountain, an organizer who identified himself as Tito called out news outlets for only focusing on the negative and violent aspects of the protests, and asked protesters to remain peaceful as they continued downtown. “If you use violence, you will receive violence,” he warned of the police response.
The night’s protests in Brooklyn began with a decidedly different tenor. At 9pm, a group of protesters clad in back made their way toBarclays Center, holding up middle fingers and yelling “Fuck the police” at officers stationed along both sides of the avenue. As the group approached Barclays Center with arms linked, they encountered participants in a candlelight vigil, organized by the Freedom Actualization Movement, seated outside of Barclays Center, facing hundreds of police officers. At first, there was a standoff between the two groups: many from the first called for violence, while organizers of the latter asked protesters to join them, seated. But when a young white man yelled “Violence is the only answer,” members of the crowd turned on him, calling him an “instigator” and an “embed.” Organizers urged protesters to leave the man alone, and once again encouraged protesters to sit. The majority of the crowd did, and the organizer of the Atlantic Avenue march handed his megaphone to the FAM protesters to use. Some protesters split off down Atlantic Avenue, calling for looting.
At 10:40pm, 20 minutes before the New York curfew, organizers joined the crowd in a moment of silence, followed by chants of George Floyd’s name. They urged protesters to go home, to rest, and to avoid arrest as a result of the curfew. Five minutes before the curfew, a group of protesters coming from a silent vigil in McCarren Park in Williamsburg joined the group and an organizer led the crowd in chants of “Hands up, don’t shoot” as the clock struck 11.
As the protesters approached a barricade that had just been erected across Atlantic Avenue, they, one by one, began to kneel with their hands raised in front of the police vans and continued to yell “Hands up, don’t shoot,” in the face of the police lights. By 11:20, the police cleared the barricade, and allowed the protesters to continue on to Flatbush Avenue, towards the Manhattan Bridge. The mood was victorious, with demonstrators playing “Fuck Tha Police” as they made their way north across the bridge.
Meanwhile, across the bridge in Manhattan, looters were once again running rampant, particularly in parts of midtown and the Bronx. Footage posted to social media shows crowds pilfering the GameStop and Nordstrom stores in Union Square. At least two liquor stores were ransacked: Warehouse Wine & Spirits, on Broadway at Astor Place, and Atmi Liquor Store, on Second Avenue, near 10th Street. Security footage showed bottles shattering and flooding the Atmi Liquor Store as looters smashed in. Atmi Kurtishi, who said he had owned the store for 40 years, estimated that he had lost $100,000 of product, on top of a 75% decline in business during the coronavirus crisis. The restaurant he also owns next door, Meyhane, had been struck the night before.
“They say they’re protesting, what kind of protesting is that?” asked the 60-year-old Yugoslavian immigrant. “When you protest, you protest like a human being. I understand it’s a free country; everybody has a right, but not to destroy my store. It’s not my fault. I’m not guilty. Why do I have to pay for it?”
At a Foot Locker on Broadway, a couple of police officers stood in the door to prevent further looting. When a man on the sidewalk called for the crowd to free his brother, who was apparently inside, some ran past the officer to do so. Meanwhile, a handful of young men burst up through the sidewalk cellar doors and bolted, as the crowd cheered. The police officer moved away from the door and was overheard complaining that some watching from across the street were casually standing around with shoe boxes in their hands.
At a press conference today, reporters told Mayor de Blasio they had witnessed similar failures to deter or arrest looters. The mayor pleaded that “police officers are trying to deal with a very difficult situation” and insisted that “when our officers got where they needed to be, they acted.”
De Blasio expressed hope that a stricter curfew, which calls for New Yorkers who aren’t essential workers to stay off the streets from 8pm to 5am, will allow for more effective policing. Though he admitted New York, in having to cope with the unrest during the coronavirus crisis, was in the midst of a “horrible perfect storm,” he dismissed the idea of calling in the National Guard, saying it would only make the situation worse.
The mayor, whose daughter was arrested while protesting Saturday, said “anyone who is upset about the status quo, you know I will join you,” but condemned apparent attacks against police officers. He also worried that ongoing protests would bring a new wave of coronavirus infections.
“If you choose to protest,” the mayor said of the anti-brutality demonstrations, which are expected to continue today, “do it in the daytime hours and then go home.”
Photos by Erin O’Brien; additional reporting by Daniel Maurer