The tension could be felt as two sides faced off near Times Square in Manhattan on Saturday night, May 30, as protests carried on for the third straight day in New York City.
On one side, with their backs towards downtown, protesters who took to the streets following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. On the north side, hundreds of New York Police Department officers, many on bicycles.
With smoke rising from trash cans and makeshift road blocks set up along 40th Street and 7th Avenue, the fever broke. In a moment, screams of "Run!" broke out and protesters began fleeing downtown. Some further back from the pack fled the main street and fled behind buildings, unsure of what violence had taken place.
Police advanced, pushing protesters back, while an officer on a bullhorn repeated the refrain: "This is an unlawful assembly. If you do not disperse, you will be placed under arrest."
It's a scene that has played out around the city, around the country. The New York Police District (NYPD) told Rappler that 345 people had been arrested on Saturday, with 33 police officers injured and 57 NYPD vehicles damaged, with some being destroyed.
There was little in the way of the camaraderie between officers and civilians that had been seen in places like Schenectady, New York or Camden, New Jersey. Hostile dialogue, in English and in Spanish, took place as protesters and police alike made their way towards the Chelsea section of Manhattan.
The street became a line in the sand for officers, who shouted "Circle, circle!" to isolate individual protesters before zip-tying their hands behind their backs to take them into custody. When the roadway had been cleared down towards 29th Street, police then went to disperse people from the sidewalks as well.
One man, identified as Vincent from the Bronx, got into a heated back-and-forth exchange with an officer wearing a face shield, who told him "I'm cutting you a break" for not arresting him. "That's what he wants!" shouted another woman, stepping between Vincent and the officer. "He's instigating, look at him smiling!"
"All we're trying to do is reason with somebody," Vincent told reporters. "We are tired of being hurt. We are tired of feeling unsafe. Is my black skin a threat? We are tired of this."
While it was an incident across the country which set off this round of unrest, New York has a long history of police violence involving African Americans, with few arrests for fatal incidents and even fewer convictions.
Among the incidents that sparked outcry in the city was the killing of Amadou Diallo in 1999, when an unarmed man was fired at 41 times in front of his home in the Bronx. It resulted in all 4 officers involved being acquitted.
Another incident, wherein Eric Garner died after an officer placed him in a chokehold in Staten Island, did not result in charges being brought up. Garner's plea for air, "I can't breathe," however, became a rallying cry in the resulting protests.
Not every demonstration across the city this past weekend was the same.
In Jamaica, Queens, police officers at one point knelt in a gesture of solidarity with protesters. Meanwhile, across the city in the borough of Brooklyn, an officer drove his police cruiser into protesters on Sunday, May 31, after another cruiser had been hit by water bottles and parking cones. Other videos emerged of police officers throwing people to the floor and pepper-spraying them.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a late night press conference that the video footage of the cruiser hitting pedestrians was "upsetting" but said the officers showed "tremendous restraint" and added, "I'm not gonna blame officers who are trying to deal with an absolutely impossible situation."
His words drew condemnation from the progressive wing of the city's Democratic leadership, with congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez calling them "unacceptable."
"This moment demands leadership and accountability from each of us. Defending and making excuses for NYPD running SUVs into crowds was wrong," the first-term congresswoman from the Bronx wrote on Twitter. "Make it right. De-escalate."
The protests continued for a fourth day on Sunday. An officer who answered the phone late Sunday night at NYPD's public information department said they were still awaiting the tally of arrests from Sunday's protests. – Rappler.com