Less than an hour after an 8 p.m. curfew descended on New York during the seventh straight night of protests against police violence, NYPD officers rushed a group of protesters in downtown Brooklyn, pushing people to the ground and striking them with batons.
It was a sudden and violent end to an otherwise peaceful day of marches.
Protesters tried to kneel and raised their hands to calm the chaos only to be pushed by a growing wall of police that penned them into Cadman Plaza. One woman said an officer beat her with her own bicycle. Two others helped carry an injured protester who was limping away from the line of police officers.
“I can't believe what I just witnessed and experienced,” Jumaane Williams, the city’s public advocate said on Twitter after posting a video of officers shoving protesters. “The force used on nonviolent protestors [sic] was disgusting. No looting/no fires.”
The day's demonstrations began in Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Bay Ridge earlier in the day, remaining calm and peaceful.
In Bay Ridge, hundreds marched along Fifth Avenue—careful to remain on the sidewalk as a line of police marched alongside them on the street. Some even waited for the light to cross at intersections.
Listen to Karen Yi discuss the confrontation with Jami Floyd on WNYC:
“There are girls and boys, women and men waking up every day with targets on their back, waking up every day with a burden of being black?” Enoch Jemmott yelled to the crowd pressed outside Alpine Cinemas.
“What about being white?” shouted a white counter-protester across the street who had been tailing the group with another woman wearing an American flag around her wrist.
“Black lives matter!” the group chanted in response.
“What will it take? Peace or chaos? Shouting or shooting? Hate or love?” Jemmott said. “Please listen, please understand. No matter how we deliver it, whether [the message] is peaceful or aggressive, it's ignored. Their prideful neglect endorses the killing of black lives.”
Protesters then continued through Sunset Park, eventually reaching Barclays Center, where they tripled the loose crowd of about a hundred protesters who had already gathered there.
“We are Muslim and we are going to pray,” one of the young organizers yelled at Barclays as they arrived. Another protester delivered a call to prayer and neat rows of protesters knelt to pray as a moment of silence washed over the crowd.
Ten minutes before the 8 p.m. curfew, the crowd took to the street. With the Manhattan Bridge blocked off, protesters turned on Adams Street toward the Brooklyn Bridge. But officers were positioned along Tillary Street blocking protesters.
“We’re not running from the police, we’re trying to make them hold themselves accountable,” yelled Mason Bleu, 18, as he directed the crowd to keep going toward the Cadman Plaza.
“Some of us are headed to jail, some of us are headed back home, some of us might die, we don't know, we are walking without knowing what’s going to happen because that’s how we feel as a people,” Mason said. “We don’t know where we’re going but we’re going to be there together.”
At Cadman Plaza, protesters ran into an even larger barricade of police armed with shields and batons.
One protester shouted, “don’t do this, don’t disturb the peace,” as one officer readied her baton.
The standoff lasted no more than 20 minutes; leaders of the protest urged people to turn back to avoid a confrontation.
As protesters began to retreat, more police poured into Camden Plaza, surrounding the crowd.
“Stay together,” protest leaders urged the crowd.
Then police began pushing protesters back a block, throwing their bicycles and making a handful of arrests. Police yelled “just go!” as they began closing in on people kneeling and raising their hands to keep the peace. But more fights ensued as protesters continued retreating.
“Don’t fight them,” protesters yelled as police began taking people down.
In the chaos and screaming that ensued, broken chants of “peaceful protest" struggled to rise above the din.
Some protesters scattered as it began to pour, but the remnants of the group continued winding their way through Brooklyn. Police followed at a distance in their patrol cars as protesters tried to use metal and plastic barricades to block their vehicles from getting closer. When officers were blocked from driving further, they chased the demonstrators on foot.
“They kept pushing on us, pushing on us, one thing led to another and the police started hitting us with batons,” Dan Hancho, 32, said. “The NYPD is responsible for tonight and if NYPD is responsible, [Mayor Bill] de Blasio is responsible, [Governor Andrew] Cuomo is responsible for making them attack their own people.”