BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH, ROBERT POZARYCKI, TODD MAISEL AND BEN VERDE
Protesters and police officers clashed outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn Friday night as tensions escalated during a demonstration over the police-involved killing of Minnesota’s George Floyd earlier this week.
More than 150 demonstrators were arrested during the melee and an undetermined number of police officers were injured. A police van was burned at one of the many demonstration sites.
Though things started out relatively peaceful, the protest began taking a wild turn just before sundown, as demonstrators clashed with police officers who ordered them to disburse.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said Saturday morning that more than 3,000 protesters participated in the march. The majority of them were young people in their 20s of all different races and walks of life.
In the end, over 200 protesters were arrested and multiple officers wound up injured during scuffles. Shea said various objects, including bricks, were hurled at cops; one individual was arrested on attempted murder charges for hurling a Molotov cocktail at a marked NYPD van.
The chants reflected their anger at the situation: “F— the police,” “NYPD, that’s how you spell racist” and “No justice, no peace.” Some young protesters, mostly of color, shouted at officers, asking them why they were “killing us.”
“You are supposed to protect us, but you’re killing us,” one young woman shouted as she stood along a crowd control barrier in front of the doors at Barclays Center.
Other young women in attendance tried to speak with a female cop, asking her why she was actively helping a system that they felt was oppressing them.
“The injustice towards people of color by the police has been going on for way too long,” protestor Ziyana Johnson said. “We protest and we protest and we’re never heard.”
But soon, the tension devolved into acts of aggression that started out as physical shoving between the cops and demonstrators, which led to officers using pepper spray. Demonstrators then began throwing objects at police, including bottles and anything they could find. One of the individuals hit was Brooklyn Assemblywoman Diane Richardson.
“This is uncalled for. I would never come here to be in a position like this,” Richardson told a WNYC reporter. “I’m actually out here to ensure that the peace is keeping [sic].”
Brooklyn State Senator Zellnor Myrie tweeted that both he and Richardson were pepper sprayed and arrested during the demonstration.
Other protesters hurled water bottles at cops and climbed the green berm covering the entrance to the Barclays Center subway station, prompting officers to give chase and pull them off. Several of those demonstrators were arrested.
Demonstrators then spilled into Flatbush Avenue, shutting down traffic for much of the evening. Police faced off with demonstrators in the street with shields, blocking projectiles that were being hurled at them. Cops arrested some of those people – one demonstrator visibly sick and throwing up in the middle of the street, some cops fearing he had the coronavirus.
Cops are removing protestors from the green pic.twitter.com/ArO5jmuVYU
— Ben Verde (@verde_nyc) May 29, 2020
Police commandeered an MTA bus where they placed arrested protesters for transport to the local precinct for processing. However, the bus driver — a member of the Transport Workers Union Local 100 — refused to operate the bus and walked off.
The union tweeted that its bus operators “do not work for the NYPD.”
“We transport the working families of NYC, all TWU Operators should refuse to transport arrested protestors,” the TWU Local 100 stated.
— Grant from home (@grantlan145) May 30, 2020
After roughly two hours, the protest split, with one group marching to Fort Greene Park and another through Boerum Hill.
There were reports after sunset that the unrest spread to the nearby 88th Precinct in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where an NYPD van was set ablaze and someone attempted to hurl a chunk of cement and an officer. A New York Times reporter tweeted that someone inside a moving, unmarked police car doored a protester.
A police van was set aflame at Fort Greene Park as demonstrators continued hurling objects at police.
The situation brought condemnation from two top city lawmakers only hours after Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner Dermot Shea spoke about keeping the protests safe and peaceful.
“This is horrifying and unacceptable,” City Council Speaker Corey Johnson tweeted. “The NYPD must respect the right of New Yorkers to make their voices heard as we mourn and demand justice for George Floyd. We knew this protest was happening tonight. We should have been prepared to handle it peacefully.”
City Comptroller Scott Stringer railed against the pepperspraying of Richardson and Mylie, and took the mayor to task over the protest’s ugly turn.
“What the hell is going on, @NYCMayor?” he tweeted. “You can’t criticize the Minneapolis Police in the morning and not hold your own accountable in the evening. Live up to your words.”
The mayor’s press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, reported that de Blasio and administration leadership are now at the Barclays Center “working to deescalate the situation.”
Later, the mayor tweeted: “We have a long night ahead of us in Brooklyn. Our sole focus is deescalating this situation and getting people home safe. There will be a full review of what happened tonight. We don’t ever want to see another night like this.”
In a joint statement, state Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie called for calm, as well as an effort to prevent a repeat of Friday’s events.
“Let’s be clear – the reason for the protests themselves is warranted and too familiar. Tonight, two members of the Legislature, who stood in solidarity with the protesters in a peaceful manner and who were trying to help to calm the situation, were pepper sprayed and one was put in handcuffs,” they stated. “Our hope is the heartfelt demonstrations do not lead to more violence, injuries or worse. From what we have witnessed, there must better coordinated efforts to help de-escalate tensions and allow our citizens to protest injustices.”