manhattan bridge march

Reflections On The First Week


Words and photos: Allen Ying

The first week of George Floyd protests was truly extraordinary…

I mean, the protests are still extraordinary in so many different ways, but to me, that first week was really something. People were justifiably angry about the systemic racism that has lead to the countless murders of black people by police, and they took to the streets. Protestors were non-violent but they did vandalize, spray painting ‘Black Lives Matter’, ‘FTP’, ‘George Floyd’, etc on buildings, sidewalks, and streets, and they smashing police car windows and even burned a few. Looters took to luxury retail in Soho and midtown, and various other establishments along the way. NYPD responded to the protests by escalating tensions and committing more violence: tackling, pepper spraying, beating with batons, and arresting protestors. But the exposure and global support during that first week helped project a voice that could not be controlled, ignored or silenced.

Since then, the protests have evolved, and are much bigger and more organized. There are multiple actions every day, spreading to various neighborhoods throughout each borough. Marches, vigils, bike rides, family and kids events, meditations, morning runs, and paddle outs at Rockaway beach. 15,000 people showed up for Black Trans Lives just the other day, one of the many events that Sunday. There are daily schedules with live updates on march progress on the Instagram account @justiceforgeorgenyc. Speakers are sometimes mic’d to a wireless PA system, with a large PA rolling along on a cargo bike and smaller speakers on the backpacks of other bikers. 

There are volunteer crews traveling alongside marches handing out free snacks, water, coffee, masks, hand sanitizer, and sometimes pizza slices, sandwiches, and vegan hummus wraps. Taking a knee and bridge marches have become a regular occurrence, and there’s occasionally drums, music and dancing. Usually, a crew of cyclists escorts the march to help block cars at the next intersection, and there was even a police-escorted march over the Brooklyn Bridge when George Floyd’s brother led a memorial service. The protests are more peaceful now. The NYPD seems to have pulled back a bit, and overall everything is a little more PG.

It doesn’t seem like a bad thing, the movement has grown and spread around the world. The week of ‘rioting’ brought a lot of attention and outrage, which helped expand the conversations, petitions, fundraising, and power of the movement beyond what we saw after Ferguson and Baltimore 5—6 years ago. I just hope the larger peaceful numbers will keep the momentum going, and keep officials paying attention and making changes.

The night before the first protest, I tried to find out about one online, and failed. I figured people still weren’t ready to be in crowds during a pandemic. But then this first small protest was unfolding and I headed over. Young women of color were being arrested, and others cheered on this white guy for utilizing his privilege.

 

Protest info started spreading on the internet, the next day there were two more, and each day they grew larger.
A protestor spray painted George Floyd on the street with a crew covering the action with signs. This protestor lead an emotional series of chants around it.
A family poses with a child in a stroller, in front of a police SUV spray-painted with FTP and MURDERER on the front windshield.
This protest had splintered, a tactic utilized by police, and we marched up to Houston and Lafayette where we took a knee to listen to a speaker. The streets were still relatively empty due to the lockdown, and we’re a little lucky in NY that most drivers support the cause and were patient, but it still felt powerful to occupy a normally bustling intersection, especially not knowing protests would continue to expand into larger kneel-downs.
Inmates cheered protestors on, and vice versa. Statistically, they are most likely awaiting trial, for low-level crimes, and over-sentenced, while police and white-collar crimes and corporate looting of citizens go unpunished.

After seeing white anti-lockdown protestors storm gov’t buildings armed with AK-47s during the pandemic, it became clear it was safer to have white allies use their privilege to step up to deter police violence. It also seems like NYPD strategy to put their black and brown officers up front. This was just before police started wearing riot gear all the time.
Protestors gathered outside Manhattan Detention Complex, aka The Tombs.
At Barclays Center in Brooklyn, the protest got really big and police were getting real sketchy. Protestors were prepared to pour milk in the eyes of those who’d been pepper-sprayed.
Historically and presently police primarily exist to protect capital and the interests of the wealthy, they are not keeping anyone here safe, only endangering them.
Police were trying to clear the street, and commandeered an MTA bus to transport arrested protestors. The MTA worker stepped off and refused to drive it anywhere.

Things were getting hectic at Barclays Center, the crowd was growing, a large part of it splitting off to march. This was still just the second night of protests and police were making the situation dangerous. I left feeling the protests were generally good, but wondering if anything ever changes. Has anything changed in the 5-6 years since Ferguson and Baltimore? Is it just routine now? Police murder, people protest, rinse and repeat.
Grand Army Plaza, across from a crowd listening to speakers.
This march from Barclays Center approached the Manhattan Bridge and paused. Some protestors were saying the night before it was a trap for tons of arrests, but there were multiple waves of marchers and it couldn’t be stopped.
It ended up being a large and powerful march over the Manhattan Bridge.
‘End White Silence’ became a bigger part of the conversation.
Looters in Manhattan. Throughout the week, things did change, and pretty fast. Internet dialogue was spreading and topics were expanding. The rationale for vandalism, rioting and looting became widely understood as a direct result of—and justified reaction to—centuries of systemic racism, effective slavery and robbing of black livelihood and lives. It only made sense to attack the system that values profits over black lives. ‘Loot + Redistribute’ was graffitied around town.
This time everyone’s talking about the failure of attempted police reforms, and to defund and abolish police. This was the first I’d heard about the NYPD’s bloated $5.5 billion budget in relation to the city’s budgets for education, pandemic response, etc. This was the first I’d heard of NY State’s police protection law 50-a, which has now been repealed.
Petitions and fundraisers for bail funds and the Floyd family were beyond succeeding. Droves of white folks started coming out to follow black protest leadership and address their own role in supremacy and covert racism. I’d never seen a movement spread around the world the way this has, and it’s proven once again that protesting does work. It can lead to more change than decades of voting ever could. The path ahead is still very long. Breonna Taylor’s killers still haven’t been charged. But we have taken some decent steps in the centuries-long struggle for Black liberation.
looting, soho

Smash and grabs were happening alongside marches, as well as separately with games of cat and mouse with NYPD throughout Soho and midtown Manhattan. Looters were seen marching with large bags of merchandise. One NYC souvenir store was broken into and I <3 NY shirts were tossed into the air for anyone to grab.
Loads of looters flooded into the Balenciaga store in Soho. Police would catch on, looters would flood out, but not all would make it out.
At least 7 were arrested inside the Balenciaga store, with shelves empty.
Many looters were chased out of stores and tackled.

At Stonewall Inn, the site of historic riots for the LGBT community, protestors rally for Tony Mcdade, Nina Pop, and various Black Trans Lives stolen that week.
stonewall inn and march

 

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