An initially peaceful demonstration in New York City over the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by police in Minnesota, spiraled into chaos as night fell Friday, as protesters skirmished with police officers, destroyed police vehicles and set fires.
In Brooklyn, activists who had marched from Manhattan chanted insults at officers lined up outside the Barclays Center and pelted them with water bottles. Police sprayed an eye-irritating chemical into the diverse crowd multiple times, then cleared the plaza.
Video posted to social media showed officers using batons and shoving protesters as they took people into custody and cleared streets. One video showed on officer slam a woman to the ground as he walked past her in the street.
Later in the evening, what had been a tense situation turned worse. Demonstrators rocked a police van, set it ablaze, then scrawled graffiti across its charred hulk and set it on fire a second time as officers retreated from the area. Blocks away, protesters used a club to batter a police cruiser.
At another location near the arena, a shouting mob of protesters, some wearing helmets and carrying makeshift shields, advanced on officers shouting and throwing objects, and police retaliated with batons and arrests, leaving the roadway strewn with debris.
Numerous people were arrested and police brought in buses to take them away.
“We have a long night ahead of us in Brooklyn,” Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted. “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.”
The police department said numerous officers were injured, including one who had a tooth knocked out.
The demonstrations were held in defiance of a ban on gatherings, imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed thousands of New Yorkers including dozens of members of the NYPD.
“I voted in every election, city, state, national, and I always read the news, but it’s been decades and nothing has changed, so I don’t know how much these protests help but I know everything else I’ve done hasn’t … for me it’s rage and exhaustion” one protester, Lucy Saintcyr, said as she headed home on the bus.
Protests around George Floyd’s death have taken place around the country and were not quelled by the news Friday that the Minneapolis officer recorded kneeling on his neck would face criminal charges.
“Our country has a sickness,” said Brianna Petrisko, among those demonstrating earlier in the day in lower Manhattan. “We have to be out here. This is the only way we’re going to be heard.”
New York Civil Liberties Union Legal Director Christopher Dunn blamed the police department for provoking the confrontations in Brooklyn.
“The mayor needs to take accountability for the NYPD’s provocation, aggression, and violence on display tonight. If he’s serious about his demands for accountability in Minnesota, he needs to show leadership here in New York City,” he said in a statement.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier in the day on Friday said he stood with the Minnesota protesters.
“Nobody is sanctioning the arson, and the thuggery and the burglaries, but the protesters and the anger and the fear and the frustration? Yes. Yes. And the demand is for justice,” Cuomo said.
Anticipating demonstrations Friday afternoon, De Blasio said police officers had been told to respect peaceful protest, but he also had a message for demonstrators: “If you are angry with the government, if you are angry with the elected leaders, direct that anger to all of us, because if we haven’t done enough, we are the ones who should be held responsible,” he said. “But the police officer in front of you is a working man or woman just trying to do their job.”
Associated Press reporters Robert Bumsted, Julie Walker and Deepti Hajela contributed to this report.
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