The tumultuous weekend in New York City began Friday night outside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn as a rally of 3,000 protesters, angered over the George Floyd police-involved death in Minneapolis, disintegrated into a raucous showdown with police.
Rowdy protesters hurled bottles and other debris at officers — some of whom wore riot gear — who tried to keep the crowd away from the entrance to the sports arena. There were plenty of clashes between cops and protesters caught on camera which showed pushing, shoving, and police use of pepper spray.
Some in the crowd screamed, “Burn it down,” referring to the Barclays Center. Several small fires set next to the arena walls were extinguished by police on the scene.
Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was at the Barclays Center and then, tried to quell some of the violence in Flatbush and keep the crowds from becoming violent — but with only limited success.
The protests continued in pockets across Brooklyn and Manhattan Saturday night, after an afternoon of relatively calm demonstrations. Protests and ensuing violence hit areas of Times Square, Union Square, the FDR Drive, Manhattan Bridge, and various parts of Flatbush, Brooklyn.
Williams said earlier Saturday that he believes the heavy police presence and “rows of police officers” at the Barclays Center and throughout the city are intimidating, constituting an “oppressive response” that actually causes the crowds to become angrier.
Williams, flanked by Councilmember Brad Lander and State Senator John Liu stood outside the Barclays Center on the morning of May 30, where others echoed his sentiment, calling on the NYPD to “de-escalate tension and reduce numbers at further protests.”
Liu went a step further and demanded an apology from Mayor Bill de Blasio for the “Normandy-like army of police,” at the Barclays Center.
More than 200 demonstrators were arrested the night of May 29 during the violent melee at the arena, where cops attempted to also clear Flatbush Avenue. They were forced to deflect objects being thrown at them.
Several police officers were injured in clashes with protestors, and numerous police vehicles were damaged or destroyed at the nearby 88th Precinct on Classon Avenue in Brooklyn.
Prior to the chaos at the Barclays Center Friday, Williams attended an afternoon protest at Foley Square in Manhattan, where he joined Gwen Carr, mother of chokehold victim Eric Garner and Arch of Justice leader Kirsten John Foy.
While they attempted to use a bullhorn, he said, they were drowned out by other “white allies” who held separate demonstrations in the same vicinity. However, photos show that those other gatherings of speakers were people of various races — many of those groups splintered throughout the days of demonstrations.
On Saturday morning, Williams criticized the NYPD for deploying large numbers of officers at the Barclays Center, while Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Dermot Shea defended the large deployment as necessary to protecting property and people.
“This is not me telling you what you should or shouldn’t do on how to express your pain and anger,” Williams said. “Anyone who starts off without acknowledging the righteousness of the protest and how do we address the concerns being raised is having an honest conversation.”
Williams maintained there is a “crisis of leadership” and he called on the mayor and governor to “help provide that leadership.”
“We all asked for these positions where we have to make tough decisions — for the next few days we need real leadership, not just words,” he said. “I was out here with most of my family (Friday night) — my mother with us at Foley Square along with some of her friends and I told her she may not want to come, but if you met my mother you would know where I get it from.”
The public advocate said his main points include reducing police presence at demonstrations including eliminating “the imposing wall of police that was here at the Barclays Center.” He also called the protests the following day “righteous” and a result of long time racism.
“We are dealing with people who are grieving and who are angry. the response to that cannot be a show of force,” he said. “We have to ask our police force to fall back and in the event that police must do something, it does not give them permission to overreact.”
He referred to an arrest incident on Friday night of one female demonstrator shoved to the ground, hitting her head – this arrest was filmed and is under investigation. He called for “accountability for officers actions” over the “unnecessary” act.
“Commanders did nothing to intervene,” Williams said.
Williams refused to discuss protecting property and rather continued to focus on the issues of racism and disparity between arrests and incidents with black and brown people, compared to white people.
“I’m not talking to the agitators who are here with purpose. I’m talking about the white allies who want to be supportive. The people who make decisions on how this protest should be left to the people who are most aggrieved and they should be at the forefront of any of these protests,” Williams said. “I stood here and watched and that was not the case. People are making decisions for those in pain. Do not make decisions for them. It’s not about you, it’s about them and us.”
On Saturday evening, hours after Williams held his morning press conference at the Barclays Center, he was out on Bedford and Tilden Avenues in his own neighborhood of Flatbush, where numerous arrests were being made for throwing objects at police, a police car attacked and graffitied, and then, two patrol cars set ablaze. This was one of many protests in the city, some getting out of control.
Williams weaved his way between protestors and a throng of helmeted police officers on Bedford Avenue. He talked with demonstrators and attempted to calm things when he saw possible arrests and difficult conditions.
Williams talked with Chief of Department Terrence Monahan during the Saturday night disturbance at Bedford and Tilden. There, police were surrounded by protestors who, at some points, attempted to stop arrests from being made for various alleged crimes.
“We have to accept that there will be some discomfort for the next few days,” Williams said. “The problem is black and brown people are drying disproportionately and that’s how we must start this conversation, not worry about property,” he said. “People are angry across this nation, and across the city. We don’t even have justice for Eric Garner because there are police officers who have not been brought to justice. Amy Cooper who called 911 falsely and said a black man was attacking her.”
Williams has also called for a larger cut in the NYPD budget and instead use those funds for youth programs and social services to address inequities.