Hundreds of Black transgender and LGBTQ activists marched through the streets of lower Manhattan on Thursday night, their cries of “abolition now” reverberating and attracting both onlookers with iPhones and police officers with batons.
For the past 21 weeks, activists have led weekly Thursday evening rallies from the Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay rights movement, calling for Black transgender freedom and abolition. This week’s event was noticeably different, activists said, with more police officers surrounding the marchers amid escalating election-related unrest. More than a dozen individuals were arrested over the course of the march, which wound through Soho and ultimately culminated on the steps of Union Square Park around 9 p.m.
The weekly event is organized by trans activists Joel Rivera and Qween Jean. Donning a bold turquoise outfit, Qween Jean led the march by projecting nonstop chants, like “Black lives matter” and “Trans lives matter,” through a microphone. Joel Rivera, meanwhile, was among those arrested during the march. In a video posted on Twitter, Rivera is shown screaming “You’re hurting me” as police place handcuffs on Rivera’s wrists.
Despite the eventual clashes between police and protestors, the event was intended to be peaceful. Qween Jean made this clear to attendees before the march began. “Be mindful that when we get into the street, we may come across opposition,” Qween Jean said from the Stonewall Inn in the West Village. “We will not allow them to change the narrative. We will not allow [police] to say we were attacking them. We will not give [police] any reason to open fire on a group of family, of unarmed Americans.”
But tensions between NYPD and marchers first rose when, at Bond Street and Broadway, an officer was pushed to the ground and had a chain pressed against his throat, according to the police. The suspect was charged with assault, criminal possession of a weapon and attempted strangulation, the NYPD tweeted. After this arrest, police started making additional arrests, with the majority of the charges being disorderly conduct and obstruction of governmental administration. There were a total of 19 arrests, a police spokesperson said on Friday morning.
Many protestors expressed frustration with the NYPD’s presence. “Look at how many police officers are here and look at us,” said attendee Dreya St. Clair Thompson, pointing to a barricade of police officers on bikes. “We are trying to bring peace.”
At one point, Qween Jean led a call and response chant: “How do you spell racist?” the activist said with a fist in the air. Marchers responded: “N-Y-P-D.” “How do you spell white supremacy?” Qween Jean continued. “N-Y-P-D.” “How do you spell homophobia?” “N-Y-P-D.”
Videos on Twitter show police officers on bikes shoving credentialed members of the press and even pushing back elected official Jumaane Williams. “NYPD was trying to clear the street and make an arrest,” Williams, the city’s public advocate, tweeted. “Aggressively. Officers then appeared to begin setting up for mass arrests—we intervened to try and de-escalate and prevent that. Most importantly, there seems to be a lack of leadership when the City needs it the most.”
Even with the unintended faceoffs between police and marchers, the event formally ended with a message of hope and celebration, as Qween Jean continued to lead chants of “Black lives matter” in Union Square Park. Musicians beat their drums, and activists rang cowbells while applauding and cheering.
Qween Jean indicated that the weekly protests would continue long after the election and related unrest subsides. “We have to fight for our freedom,” Qween Jean said. “Next week after the election is over, Black lives will not be over. This mission, this fight will not be over. We will be out here in December, we will be out here after Thanksgiving. We may even be out here for Thanksgiving.”