For almost three hours, Sherry Gorelick rolled down Fifth Avenue on her mobility scooter. Police cars and helicopters followed the 81-year-old resident of the Upper West Side while she scooted from the New York Public Library to Washington Square Park.
Joined by hundreds of protesters, Gorelick began the evening urging officials across the country to count all votes cast in the general election. However, after she and many others went home at the end of the evening, a separate set of demonstrations became violent as police officers arrested scores of protesters.
The series of protests followed a months-long onslaught from President Donald Trump on the validity of the election that ended Tuesday night. It also came on the heels of a summer of police violence and unrest in the streets after a slew of police killings across the country.
Wednesday evening began without aggression from either the police or protesters. Hundreds converged on the front steps of the New York Public Library as part of a “Protect The Vote” coalition to exhort election officials to count every ballot in a contested presidential election.
“People voted. Their votes have to count,” said Livvie Mann, a 72-year-old resident of Greenwich Village and member of Rise and Resist, an organization formed in response to Trump’s 2016 election.
With the sun setting between skyscrapers, the march soon got underway. Passersby looked on as young and old marched down Fifth Avenue chanting “Count every vote.”
“I think this is freakin’ awesome,” said 28-year-old Kristain Gilcher, an employee at MedMen who stepped out from work to watch the parade walk by.
While the protesters marched, the police lined up alongside buildings whose windows had, in many cases, been boarded up in anticipation of potential violence, a prelude to events later in the night.
After 30 blocks, the large crowd reached Washington Square Park. Members of the media welcomed them with lighting rigs and cameras. Many protesters dispersed.
An hour later, a new, more rowdy demonstration set off from Washington Square Park, according to reports. Some protesters started a handful of trash fires on the streets surrounding the park, and the police department stated that they had confiscated weapons from some of the demonstrators.
These weapons, confiscated at protests tonight, put others at risk. Bringing weapons to peaceful protests cannot and will not be tolerated. We are currently working to de-escalate the situation. Anyone caught with a weapon will be arrested. pic.twitter.com/GiCDv74ncT— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) November 5, 2020
Police officers, many clad in riot armor, responded with force. Videos show officers aggressively arresting protesters and “kettling”—a technique used to corral a disorderly group—them from the streets onto the sidewalks.
In a post on Twitter, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson called videos of Wednesday night’s arrests “incredibly disturbing.”
In one instance filmed by reporters at Gothamist and WNYC, police swarmed someone near Union Square as onlookers shouted “he didn’t do anything.”
Nearby at Union square police swoop in arresting people from the sidewalk, tackling them to the ground. pic.twitter.com/xYgZj5P1Mr— Gwynne Hogan (@GwynneFitz) November 5, 2020
At least 58 protesters were arrested, according to The New York Times.
“We appreciate and value the importance of freedom of speech. Our top priority is and always will be safety,” the police department said in a statement posted to Twitter, as reported by the New York Post.
At a press conference today, after Gothamist reporter Sydney Pereira recalled “aggressive arrests with pushing, pushing with batons and the bikes,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said that while he wasn’t familiar with all the details of last night’s protests, “The crucial point here is that we, honestly, cannot allow violence. Let’s be clear: Attacks on people, setting fires, attacks on officers, attacks on property, we just can’t allow that and we won’t. But at the same time the goal is always to de-escalate.” He added that “overwhelmingly what we’ve seen now for six months is peaceful protests managed peacefully by the NYPD.”
Correction: The original version of this post was revised to correct the spelling of Sherry Gorelick’s name.