A fourth day of protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd devolved into pandemonium Sunday night as a peaceful march from Downtown Brooklyn gave way to widespread looting and destruction in the streets of Manhattan. Dozens were arrested, according to the police, and a man was hospitalized after gunfire erupted in Soho.
The chaos began around 9:30pm, after police stopped a massive crowd that had marched from Barclays Center to Manhattan, taking over the upper roadway of the Manhattan Bridge and then walking west in the middle of Canal Street. At Greene Street, a phalanx of officers diverted the crowd up Broadway, whereupon storefronts were smashed and tagged with slogans such as “ACAB” (“All Cops Are Bastards”) as marchers made their way north. With few police to be seen on Broadway, civilians attempted to contain the chaos: Immediately after the windows of a Duane Reade at 4th and Broadway were smashed, enraged marchers swooped in and prevented people from entering.
Around 11pm, as a splinter group advanced up Bowery on skateboards and on foot, garbage cans were tipped over and lit on fire. Some of the blazes– such as one at Astor Place and 4th Avenue– were quickly put out by firefighters, while others were squashed by a good samaritan carrying a fire extinguisher. At Bowery and East 3rd Street, a man used what appeared to be a tow hitch to smash the windows of Sweetgreen. The adjacent 7-Eleven was also damaged. A couple of blocks south, the Trek store was broken into and over a dozen bicycles were taken before a handful of police officers swooped in. A bystander hurled a glass bottle at the officers from about 15 feet away and waved defiantly as they did nothing.
Most of the evening’s chaos occurred in Soho, where looters broke into high-end stores– like Chanel, Rolex, Diesel, and G-Shock– that have been shuttered since non-essential business were ordered to close on March 22. Men and women emptied city trash bags in order to fill them with stolen goods, leaving the cobblestone streets strewn with garbage. Police struggled to keep up with the neighborhood-wide frenzy: At the Chanel store, dozens of people were seen exiting with packages until a few police officers cleared the block. Minutes later, the store was being pilfered again.
The injury and destruction soured what had been a day of peaceful protest over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died when a white Minneapolis police officer held a knee to his neck for nearly nine minutes. The crowds formed at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn around 1pm, with people sharing stories of racism while others held signs. A line of police officers stood along a barricade that wrapped around the arena.
Protesters again gathered at Barclays Center a little after 7pm. About an hour later, they started moving north along Flatbush Avenue toward the Manhattan Bridge. A second group of protesters joined the crowd on Flatbush Avenue, and thousands of people walked across the bridge to Manhattan.
Traffic stopped on the street to provide long honks in support of protesters, with many raising their fists — the sign of Black Power — out of open windows. On either side of the street, the stores that line the avenue, such as Shake Shack and Apple, were boarded up. Bus drivers honked their horns in three-note intervals to indicate Black Lives Matter.
The demonstration remained peaceful as protesters advanced toward the bridge. A group of motorcycle riders weaved through the crowd, blasting music as people cheered. Families leaning out of cars bumped elbows with the protesters, and recorded the scene on their smartphones.
At the entrance to the Manhattan Bridge, the tenor of the march changed. Police attempted to block protesters from making their way onto the bridge, but eventually gave way. On the Brooklyn-bound side of the road, a black man was pulled out of his car, and wrestled to the ground by a team of police officers who were wearing Anti-Terrorism Unit uniforms. The crowd seethed and yelled at the crowd of riot gear-clad police, while the man struggled under a pile of officers. He was carried away in handcuffs, and an officer in white searched his car.
Organizers encouraged protesters to continue onto the bridge. Some formed a barricade of orange traffic cones and barriers to ensure that traffic could not resume before protesters made their way into Manhattan.
As the sun set, the group walked across the bridge toward downtown Manhattan. Some spray-painted the names of victims — Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd — on the sides of the bridge. A young man dressed in a Spiderman suit jumped onto the maintenance bridge, holding a Black Lives Matter sign.
Sunday marked the fourth day that New Yorkers protested the death of George Floyd and other people of color at the hands of police officers. Over 200 people were arrested during the protests on Friday and Saturday, photos from which can be seen below. Shortly before 6am this morning, police couldn’t say how many arrests had occurred Sunday and early Monday, beyond saying there had been dozens.
Reporting and images by Emmy Freedman, Ali Tufan Koc, Daniel Maurer, and Erin O’Brien.