NYPD officers bludgeoned, pepper-sprayed, and picked fights with protesters marching peacefully through the streets of Midtown. Thousands of people were trapped on the Manhattan Bridge during an hours-long standoff with cops. Outside Barclays Center, a massive police presence went "berserk" on a group of demonstrators, according to one organizer.
So went the sixth straight day of protests against racist police brutality in New York City — and the first night of an 8 p.m. curfew that Mayor Bill de Blasio says will last through Sunday. Thousands of New Yorkers, spread throughout the city, defied that order. At least 280 people were arrested during the demonstrations on Tuesday, according to an NYPD spokesperson.
In Columbus Circle, a large group chanted "Fuck your curfew, Suck my dick," then began marching north on the Upper West Side just after 8 p.m. They were assured by a high-ranking police official that, despite the hour, they would be permitted to protest if they did so peacefully.
"I'm speechless," said Ricky, a 26-year-old doorman, who sobbed as protesters passed his building on West End near 81st Street. "The fact that it's peaceful protest, and the cops are letting them do their thing, like, it's just beautiful to see."
Less than 30 minutes later, the NYPD's tolerance would evaporate without warning or provocation. As a group of young black protesters held a brief dance party at 53rd Street, a line of police officers poured out of a barricade and charged forward. Those at the back of the protest were beaten and arrested at random — including a reporter who clearly displayed press credentials, and a young black man who followed the officers' direction to back up.
Was in the process of tweeting about the Tupac dance party in front of 100 cops when they decided to charge. At least one reporter was tackled. Several others arrested for standing in streets. This was the definition of a peaceful protest. Now we’ll see pic.twitter.com/7W06MZAqav— Jake Offenhartz (@jangelooff) June 3, 2020
"They're beating on women, helpless women, she's screaming for her life, she's scared," said Tyrell Reed, a 27-year-old Queens resident. "How many people can't breathe before we can get the message through? It's not right, we're peacefully protesting."
Similarly unprovoked confrontations played out as the march continued to move south. On Sixth Avenue in Chelsea, protesters took a knee, and were promptly herded east with a liberal dousing of pepper spray. In Astor Place, hundreds of officers rolled up on bicycles wearing motocross-style, armored chest plates, shin guards, back pieces and helmets. When someone tossed a bottle at the police line, they sped furiously after the group, arresting dozens of people.
Though there were again reports of looting in other parts of Manhattan, the group of protesters repeatedly attacked by the police did not participate. According to the Post, the destruction overall was a "a far cry from Monday’s spree of rampage."
Shortly after the curfew began at 8 p.m., hundreds of marchers in Brooklyn stormed the off-ramp of the Manhattan Bridge. Once they reached the Manhattan side, they were met by a wall of NYPD officers in riot gear behind rows of metal barricades. Other officers attempted to hide behind the south wall of the bridge — though their helmets were visible — effectively pinning marchers in.
Leaders of the group eventually negotiated passage into Manhattan with NYPD officials at the scene. "What we're gonna do, is let you walk up Chrystie Street on Delancey," a police commander tells a protester leader on video. "Do I have your word?" the protester asks. The officer nods and shakes his hand.
The deal fell apart, but the crowd began to push forward just the same. Gearing up for a violent physical confrontation, leaders of the march ordered white people and those with bicycles to the front of the crowd, linking arms, and chanting “Forward, forward, forward.”
Behind the police lines on the Manhattan side, Chinatown felt like a military encampment. Strategic Response Group officers and bike cops milled about and lined up to use the bathroom at the Leon Hotel. They tolerated the press, but harassed and arrested anyone else who came too close.
“They’re not letting us across this bridge plain and simple. We got two options. We keep protesting and we turn around, or it’s fucking mayhem,” one young black activist on a bullhorn told the crowd. “And that’s exactly what they want. I wanna fucking turn up but we gonna lose. We gonna lose.”
Eventually marchers retreated. As they did, someone threw a bottle at the Correction Department vans parked alongside the bridge, and the crowd chanted, “No, No, No,” telling the young man to stop.
Marching across the bridge back into Brooklyn, Elbert Powell, 48, one of the de facto group leaders, described how he had convinced the others to turn around.
“If they would have went through that barricade there was going to be some trouble and I don’t want that for none of my people,” he said. “I told them to retreat, because we cannot lose another life. We cannot lose another life and on my watch and while I’m out here and while I’m doing this we are not going to lose another life.”
NYPD officers guarded the base of the bridge on the Brooklyn side, but the protesters were allowed to leave peacefully, with one officer at the base thanking the group for remaining peaceful and even exchanging fist bumps with marchers.
While the hundreds that marched across the Manhattan Bridge avoided violent conflict with NYPD officers, that wasn’t the case for a group of people who remained at Barclays Center. Daniel Altschuler, the director of Make the Road Action, saw officers body-slamming and shoving people to the group around 10 p.m.
"It got testy between cops and some of the folks that stayed behind, and then cops just went berserk," Altschuler told Gothamist. He added that a huge group of cops "came out hot, pushing and swinging."
Mayor Bill de Blasio arrived at the scene an hour later, describing it as a "very calm situation."
At his daily briefing on Wednesday morning, Mayor de Blasio claimed, “We saw a very, very different picture around New York City last night."
Asked about the NYPD detaining and beating journalists, essential workers, and peaceful protesters, de Blasio insisted that his administration was committed to the freedom of the press, and sidestepped the other questions. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea said that while he will apologize for some incidents, he claimed that some people had lied about being journalists.
"They are reformers to their core," de Blasio said, describing the three NYPD commissioners he has appointed. "The admiration I have for these people is boundless."