For the second consecutive night since a grand jury declined to indict the police officer who killed Staten Island resident Eric Garner, thousands of New Yorkers flooded the streets to express outrage and disrupt traffic. At various points throughout the night, demonstrators forced the closure of the Brooklyn Bridge, the Manhattan Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, and caused extensive traffic jams on major Manhattan thoroughfares, including the West Side Highway and Broadway.
While the demonstrations began peacefully at Foley Square, as the night progressed police deployed pepper spray and violently removed some protesters from the road. There were additional reports that the police used a sound cannon to disperse crowds of protesters.
— Stacy Lanyon (@StacyLanyon) December 5, 2014
An NYPD spokesperson said 200 arrests were made, but could not immediately provide details on the specific charges.
The night's marching began in what was almost a stumble, as the thousands that poured out of Foley Square argued over whether or not to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. "The bridge is a trap!" some yelled. For several minutes the march wavered, with all its kinetic energy suddenly gone slack. Eventually the majority of protesters marched back up Centre Street and then Broadway, before zagging to Hudson and trekking southward, finally stopping at the Staten Island Ferry terminal. A smaller group, led by families of people killed by NYPD officers, proceeded over the bridge and on into downtown Brooklyn:
— Rachel Riederer (@readerer) December 5, 2014
At the ferry terminal, police quickly assembled barricades in an attempt to stop protesters from demonstrating on Staten Island. After a brief skirmish, officers successfully blocked off the terminal entrance with a human chain of officers and arrested those who tried to break through. But over to one side, another group of officers were quietly permitting access to those they believed to be commuters, while rebuffing anyone who appeared to be demonstrating.
This was the scene behind the police barricades, where one enraged man compared officers to Nazis and promised they'd one day face Nuremberg-style trials.
"I'm honking my horn because I support this," Robin Bovell said as she sat in her car on Hudson Street as it became flooded with protesters. "It was clearly seen on the video that they were choking him. They were supposed to find probably cause, not beyond a reasonable doubt, and he should have been indicted."
Queens protester Diana Dorry, 35, began crying when we asked her for her thoughts on the grand jury verdict. "The kids' father is now on tape for all time dying," Dorry said. "We watched a man die... everybody saw something wrong, except the men who were arresting him for selling loosies. Yeah it's against the law, I get it, but so is a fucking chokehold." [Editor's note: Chokeholds are prohibited by NYPD guidelines, but not specifically illegal.]
Kristen Worrell, 40, from Manhattan, was marching with her 10-year-old twins, a girl and a boy. Her son was heard chanting, "Black lives matter!" and "The police are mean!" Worrell told us, "He's asking questions, and it breaks my heart to explain it to him."
Earlier, protesters in black threw trash in the street. A protester chased them off, cops cleaned it up pic.twitter.com/ETwmccBilE
— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) December 5, 2014
As the march wound into Tribeca, some black-clad protesters turned over trash cans and dragged bags of garbage into the street, before protester Steve Saporito chased them away. A group of NYPD officers immediately picked up the trash from the street and moved it back to the curb.
"I don't want upper-middle class white kids coming down here and causing mischief so their rich parents can come bail them out, and fuck up what's going on here," Saporito explained. "I was in Oakland after the first general strike. It was 17 hours of brilliant work and 90 minutes of hooliganism that defined the whole thing. When you hand that kind of shit to FOX News you hurt what we're doing here."
On 8th Avenue at 14th Street, police began making a series of violent arrests, kicking and punching protesters on the ground and discharging a cloud of pepper spray into the crowd.
On that Southeast corner was Donna Robertson, 65, wiping tears from her eyes. She said she had been pepper-sprayed by the NYPD. "Being silent is not good enough," Robertson said. "This is just so sad to me that things are not that different from the 60s."
Robertson, who is visiting New York from Atlanta, Georgia, told us she was determined to protest when she heard the non-indictment news. She said she was only standing peacefully with a protest sign in hand when police sprayed her in the face. "It's a shame that we as citizens can't walk in our street without being pepper-sprayed."
Immediately after the arrests, as if on cue, a giant luxury boat was directed through the intersection that had just been cleared of protesters demanding social justice.
Clear the street protesters for MY NEW BOAT pic.twitter.com/7gnT4mNYDq
— Scott Heins (@scottheins) December 5, 2014
Protesters were violently pushed from the intersection so this giant yacht could get moved pic.twitter.com/YKfP7yb6ak
— Christopher Robbins (@ChristRobbins) December 5, 2014
Throughout the night, protesters repeatedly swarmed police cars, chanting, "How do you spell racist? NYPD!" and Garner's last words: "I can't breathe!" Some screamed "Fuck you, pigs!" in officers' faces, and one demonstrator yelled, "Why don't you go home and kill yourself?" The officers said nothing.
By midnight, the protest in Times Square was frozen and police began arresting people at random, including Carmen Bercero's husband, Don. The couple had just walked out of her office on 7th Avenue and were trying to catch a cab.
"All of a sudden he's calling me, saying, Smokey! Smokey!" she said, referring to her nickname. "They're grabbing him and pulling him away, I don't know why they're pulling him away." Bercero was told by a police officer that her husband would get in touch with her eventually. "It makes me sick to my stomach," she said.
The extensive traffic jams translated into bad business for cab drivers, as many frustrated fares were seen exiting taxis and proceeding on foot through the snarled traffic. "I'm going to make a lot less money tonight," one glum hack told us.
Reporting by Christopher Robbins, Scott Heins, Jessica Warriner, John Del Signore, and Jen Carlson