As protests over police brutality stretched into a fourth straight night, New Yorkers expressed a mix of fury, fear and frustration amid the latest tensions in a city already under siege for weeks by a pandemic.
Clarence Adams, 44, a cable technician from East Flatbush, Brooklyn, said he felt “anger, outrage, disappointment” after taking part in demonstrations at Bedford and Church Avenues following the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer now facing third-degree murder charges.
“This is a tale of two Americas,” said Adams. “The system has proven time and time again — there is no equality.”
A night earlier, police vehicles had been set on fire in Brooklyn, and cops were captured on video ramming SUVs into a crowd of protesters near the Barclays Center.
After saying late Saturday night that it was “inappropriate” for demonstrators to surround the police vehicles, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday called for a “full investigation” into the actions of the officers.
“I did not want to ever see something like that,” he said. “I don’t want to ever see it again.”
De Blasio blamed the more destructive outbursts on “people who came to do violence in a systematic, organized fashion,” saying many of those came from outside the city.
More positive images emerged earlier Sunday of police kneeling alongside protesters in Jamaica, Queens, and de Blasio walking the streets of Brooklyn after being criticized for largely staying out of sight on previous nights.
“We’re gonna be here and we’re gonna protest every night until every single NYPD takes a knee and shows they’re with us,” said Stephanie Frías of Washington Heights, who was part of a protest Sunday that stretched from Bryant Park in Midtown to Lower Manhattan, with stops in-between at Trump Tower and Times Square.
Haven’t seen this video much yet, but look at these NYPD officers — including a white shirt officer— in Queens, taking a knee beside protestors. They join as they read the names of men and women who have died at the hands of police. It’s from today: https://t.co/8MAf9CZJWr— Gloria Pazmino (@GloriaPazmino) May 31, 2020
Pastor Garelle Solomon, 36, of Little Neck, Queens, described the cops kneeling in Queens as “a major thing.”
“You could even hear it in the crowd, the cheers of the crowd,” Solomon said. “It showed us that, hey, there is a little hope we can still join hand in hand and come together because not every officer is a corrupt officer — there are some good cops out there on the streets.”
At a Sunday forum for Queens borough president candidates, all said they supported the repeal of “50-a,” the policy that shields police disciplinary records from public view. Sources said state lawmakers are expected to act soon with the support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and de Blasio.
A More Divided City
But signs of what some saw as progress came amid chaos, which peaked Saturday night and erupted in flashes well into Sunday night.
“Right now it seems like we’re going to become a more divided city,” said Tim Hunter, 21, a CUNY student from Brownsville, who attended protests in Brooklyn all weekend. “It seems like we’re getting back to that again.”
The densely packed protests, many noted, are taking place as the city slowly emerges from nearly three months of the COVID-19 outbreak that has killed more than 21,000 New Yorkers.
“I think I’m at lower risk of either getting coronavirus or getting seriously sick from it than most people,” said David Gallagher, 23, of Chelsea, who said he was laid off amid the pandemic and will be enrolling in graduate school in the fall. “So if anyone’s going out there, it might as well be me.”
But an HIV-positive man who was arrested Friday for trespassing onto the roof of the subway station entrance outside Barclays Center said concerns for his health were outweighed by a need to make his voice heard in the protests.
“It’s like, ‘Oh, you could get sick, you could die,’” said the man, who asked to be identified only as Johnathan. “And it’s like, every day of my life, I could die.
“For me, it’s an actual reality that the cops could racially profile me or someone else could racially profile me and call the cops and that’s almost like a death sentence.”
Chloe Pavlech, 24, of Bedford-Stuyvesant came to the Barclays Center on Sunday night after watching the previous protests play out on social media each night. This time, she felt she had to be there.
“To be honest, I was super scared and very nervous — just ‘cause with everything I’ve seen online and it’s a global pandemic and we’re in the epicenter,” she said. “But I was like, I would rather risk my life for something like this than to stay at home in fear.”
Sarah Green of Crown Heights was walking her dog, named Harlem, through Prospect Heights when she came across protesters laying in the street, conducting a “die-in” a block away from where officers drove SUVs into a crowd of protesters on Saturday.
She took some photos and stood on the side of Flatbush Avenue. Then, she joined in.
“Harlem was intrigued watching everybody laying down,” she said. “And I was like, let’s try it!”
Shayron McLean, 53, a high school science teacher in Harlem, did not march but understood the desire of others to protest.
“Regular New Yorkers that look like him [Floyd] support this,” she said while sitting on her stoop with friends, facing Marcus Garvey Park. “Because we’ve all seen this happen way too often. I’ve lost count of the names this has happened to. Every time this happens I think about the people who weren’t on video. “
At an 11 a.m. Mass at Fordham University in The Bronx — which could only be attended by five people because of the restrictions on gatherings — the Rev. Mark Zittle said the killings of Floyd in Minnesota, of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and of others was exposing society’s “deep, raw and systemic blind spot” to racism.
“People have been sequestered, there’s all this unemployment, and my own feeling is that the confluence of coronavirus and the events in Georgia and Minneapolis just cracked open this building sense of pressure,” Zittle said.