I went to the George Floyd protest in Foley Square yesterday. Unlike Brooklyn, it ended without violence(though I did see two arrests).
When I arrived at 3:15pm, the protesters where concentrated in Foley Square chanting. The police were lined up across the street. Chants ranged from “I can’t breathe”, to “Black Lives Matter”, to “Fuck the Police”. Every now and then the chanting would stop and someone would speak, but it was hard to hear over the noise from the helicopters above. As the chanting continued, another column of protesters marched in. The police observed, but let them pass.
I did see at least one incident of a police woman giving what appeared to be hand sanitizer to a protester. I also saw a beefy out of uniform cop having a cordial conversation with a black photographer, but it seemed like they knew each other.
I moved across the street and was watching near the courthouse steps on the other side of the police cordon. Occasionally someone would stray into the street, and one of the three women cops near me would mechanically tell them to go on the sidewalk. Traffic continued to flow.
Then the crowd spilled into the street. There was a moment of tension when cops and protesters mingled together. Clearly previous instructions to keep people on sidewalks were not going to have effect. Luckily, a couple of white shirts stepped in and pulled their officers back. I tried to thank one of the white shirts for the skillful de-escalation, but he barely looked at me.
The crowd lingered then moved north. The police followed at a distance. As we got to the Criminal Court building, police formed a cordon to keep people from entering the building, though I doubt anyone in the crowd had that intent. Protester were getting very close to police and yelling in their faces. Chants rose up of “white cops are guilty”, “black cops are guilty”, “silent cops are guilty”, and “NYPD suck my dick”. The police remained stony-faced and eventually the crowd moved south and took a left on Leonard Street.
When I got there, a bunch of cops started taking out truncheons from the police vans and looked like they were forming up to jump the protesters further down the street. They had that look on their face like they were ready for action. But eventually they moved in the other direction and some of the vans drove off. I can only wonder if they were headed to Brooklyn and the demonstrations there prevented violence here. There were a couple of cops in front of an SUV where the mass of the thinned out demonstrators remained. One of them, a tall muscular guy with a crew cut, was jawing with protesters with a smirk on his face. Maybe not the best guy for job, but besides the smirk, he stood unmoving, almost as if at attention, and no violence resulted.
Similar confrontation at the entrance of the Brooklyn Bridge, protesters venting their anger at cops, mostly silent, a few not paying attention, but most with a look of resentment peering out from their stony faces. Was this resentment at being blamed for something they also found disturbing, or the fact they were being restrained, or simply that no one likes to get yelled at?
As I headed to my bike, many of the police officers “guarding” the subway entrances were bunched up and on their phones. A couple officers were ogling a pair of young women as they walked by. When I made eye contact, one of the officers gave me a knowing smile. Not that I’ve never been guilty of this, but seemed unfitting for the occasion. But maybe this is the face of many (most) of the officers of NYPD. They just want to put in their hours, enjoy any simple pleasures they can, and go home.
NYPD showed restraint. I even saw a couple interactions with protesters that almost seemed friendly. Not quite the community engagement one might hope for, but there was no violence and no property destruction, and I hoped NYPD had learned a little bit about restraint and de-escalation. In the evening I saw all the shit that happened in Brooklyn and realized this was wildly optimistic.