Black Lives Matter demonstrators are accusing mayoral candidate Andrew Yang of trying to engineer a political photo-op after he tried to participate in a Tuesday bike ride and vigil in response to the Minneapolis police killing of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old unarmed Black man.
After riding his bike across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan, the Democratic frontrunner, who has been criticized by progressives for calling for more policing in the wake of anti-Asian hate crimes, was forced to leave after being met with jeers and criticism by protesters.
"Get your ass out of here. We don't want you here," said one woman with a megaphone, as others repeated the sentiment.
The confrontation was caught on video (fast forward to 1:40 mark):
Reached for comment on Wednesday, Kimberly Bernard, one of the founders of Riders for Black Lives, which organized the event, described Yang's participation as "a PR stunt."
She told Gothamist: "He rode in the back of the procession using the opportunity for a photo opportunity. Not once did he reach out to any of the leaders of the group, like other politicians have done in the past."
Jeff Strabone, another protester, said he and others became offended after observing Yang in Battery Park surrounded by reporters and photographers.
"Politicians should respect activists enough to at least introduce themselves and ask if their presence is wanted," Strabone said. "Activists are not a photo-op for political campaigns."
Prior to the event, Yang's campaign had emailed a press release saying the candidate would be joining the bike protest.
Read more: Where Do Mayoral Candidates Stand On The Future Of Policing?
Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, one of Yang's rivals in the race, along with City Councilmember Brad Lander, who is running to become city comptroller, also attended the start of the event outside Brooklyn's Barclays Center but elected not to join the bike protest.
Strabone said Adams and Lander were both low-key, listening and having one-on-one conversations with activists.
"I didn't even notice that he was there," Strabone said of Adams. "He was just standing there."
Although Strabone made it clear that he is not endorsing Adams, a former NYPD officer who is a centrist on many issues, including policing, he said he appreciated Adams' conduct during the vigil.
A spokesperson for Yang declined to comment.
The backlash comes two days after Yang was roundly criticized for suggesting that the city should increase its enforcement of unlicensed street vendors.
In her statement, Bernard said: "We welcome a conversation with lawmakers, we will not let them use us solely for their own political gain. We encouraged Andrew Yang, or any other politician truly committed to uplifting our community, to reach out to us and begin the conversation."