New York City officials hoped for a peaceful way forward as the city entered a fourth day of protests against police brutality that have left police cars burned and hundreds of people under arrest.
Thousands of people on Sunday again marched through multiple neighbourhoods, chanting, kneeling in the street, and falling silent for a minute in front of the neon-adorned NYPD station in Times Square in honour of people killed by police.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said he had no plans to impose a curfew, unlike other major U.S. cities and smaller cities throughout the state.
De Blasio said city police showed “tremendous restraint overall” during the weekend’s protests, but promised an investigation of video showing two police cruisers lurching into a crowd of demonstrators in a Brooklyn street, knocking people to the ground. He appointed two city officials to review how the protests unfolded and how they were handled by the police.
“We all better get back to the humanity here,” de Blasio said Sunday morning. “The protesters are human beings. They need to be treated with tremendous respect. The police officers are human beings. They need to be treated with tremendous respect.”
Hours after he spoke, demonstrations resumed. Like the past two days, they got off to a largely peaceful start.
Hundreds of people gathered on a plaza in downtown Brooklyn, chanting “No justice, no peace,” and “Black lives matter,” while making occasional insulting hand gestures at a line of police officers protecting the arena where the NBA’s Nets play.
Marchers chanted “Hands up, don’t shoot” — a rallying cry that originated from the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri — during a separate rally in Queens. In Manhattan, hundreds of people marched through the streets then knelt on Fifth Avenue.
Around the city, there were gestures from police officers intended to show sympathy or respect with marchers. A few officers clapped along with protesters in Manhattan. In Queens, uniformed officers took a knee with protesters in a Queens intersection as an organizer called out the names of men and women who have died at the hands of police.
The mood had been initially light Saturday, too, but largely peaceful protests devolved into clashes between police and protesters later in the evening. Demonstrators smashed shop windows, threw objects at officers, set police vehicles on fire and blocked roads. Graffiti was scrawled on Manhattan’s famed St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
There were multiple complaints about police unnecessarily shoving or bludgeoning protesters and spraying crowds with chemicals.
New York City police said that since the protests began late last week, nearly 790 people have been arrested, 33 officers were injured and 27 police vehicles were damaged or destroyed by fire. There were no major injuries reported.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said some peaceful demonstrations were “hijacked” by people with violent intent.
At a briefing with reporters Sunday, the department’s top intelligence and counter-terrorism official, John Miller, said that before the protests began, some anarchist groups had planned for trouble by gathering supplies of rocks and bottles, and used scouts to spot potential vandalism targets.
Among those arrested were two New York City lawyers, one of whom went to Princeton, the other to New York University Law School, who were hit with federal charges that they threw a Molotov cocktail into an unoccupied patrol car, igniting a fire on its dashboard.
“We’re going to make sure that everyone has the right to peacefully protest and assemble,” Shea said said at a briefing with the mayor. “But we are not going to tolerate destruction of property, having our officers put into harm’s way or any civilians put into harm’s way.”
Similar protests flared around the nation in response to the Minnesota death of George Floyd, a Black man who died Monday after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck.
Elsewhere in New York, people cleaned up Sunday after shop windows were shattered and vehicles torches in Rochester and demonstrators set fire to a tractor trailer in Albany.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the National Guard is on standby and that hundreds of additional troopers are being made available in Buffalo and Rochester, where hundreds of people showed Sunday to help clean up the damage.
“We expect additional protests tonight and we’re preparing for such,” Cuomo said at his daily briefing.
In Schenectady on Sunday afternoon, police marched along with protesters, with some officers holding signs saying “Black lives matter. Period!” Police Chief Eric Clifford and other officers took a knee with protesters. Later, the mayor declared a state of emergency with a 7 p.m. curfew, citing “the likely outbreak of civil unrest and disturbance.”
The New York Civil Liberties Union criticized curfews imposed in parts of the state.
“It isn’t the protesters who need curfews, it’s the police. There is no excusing the police terror we have seen this weekend against protesters. We cannot move forward when the response to protesting police brutality against Black people is more police brutality,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman.
The governor said state Attorney General Letitia James will investigate actions by both NYPD officers and protesters and report back within 30 days.
Cleanup on Sunday quickly erased much of the damage that had occurred the night before in New York City, where a lockdown enacted two months ago because of the coronavirus pandemic has been increasingly ignored in recent days amid protests and declining numbers of deaths from the virus.
At least five burned-out NYPD vehicles that remained near Manhattan’s Union Square were towed Sunday afternoon. People walked around broken glass on the street to take pictures of the vehicles.
A handful of protesters rallied peacefully in the square, holding Black Lives Matter signs and giving speeches denouncing police violence while families picnicked nearby.
“Compared to how things turned out yesterday, this is a lot better. This is exactly how things should be,” said Domenic Manning, who spoke Sunday at Union Square. “If you want to get your point across, this is the way to do it. Vandalizing companies and stores, that’s not the way to do it.”
Ken Kidd, who lives a few blocks south of the park, was among the people inspecting the damage to the vehicles. He said protesters and police tried to remain peaceful at the start before the stress of a city heavily hit by the coronavirus came out.
“I think a community can only say `Enough’ so many times and the words aren’t heard so then they got to take action and that’s what happened last night. That’s what I watched happen last night,” Kidd said.
The independent review ordered by de Blasio will be conducted by New York City Corporation Counsel James Johnson, who is the city’s chief lawyer, and Margaret Garnett, commissioner of the Department of Investigation, which typically investigates suspected wrongdoing and fraud by city employees.