A doubled police force and threats from President Trump on Monday did little to stop protests over the death of George Floyd in New York City, where demonstrators covered more than 30 city blocks and some started looting storefronts along iconic Fifth Avenue.
Hundreds of people were arrested in protests from Brooklyn to Manhattan over the weekend, after the release of a shocking video showing a Minneapolis police officer pinning Floyd, an unarmed black man, to the ground by his neck.
On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an 11 p.m. curfew and increased the number of police on the ground from 4,000 to 8,000. But thousands of protesters still turned out for a peaceful demonstration at Times Square that became more raucous as it moved uptown.
Starting around 5 p.m., protesters snaked along Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue, stopping along their route to take a knee and asking police officers to participate. But as the night wore on, others branched off from the group and started breaking into drug stores, cell phone shops, and other retailers on Fifth Ave, smashing windows with hammers.
A 40-year resident of the area, who lives above a GameStop that was looted twice in recent days, said he had never seen anything like it. “I’m appalled, obviously, but they don’t seem to be wanting to hurt anyone,” he said. “They just want to steal property.”
Outside the White House that evening, President Trump threatened to deploy the U.S. military to cities that failed to adequately crack down on protests, urging governors to bring in the National Guard “in sufficient numbers that we dominate the streets.”
“Those who threaten innocent life and property will be arrested, detained, and prosecuted, to the fullest extent of the law,” he said. “I want the organizers of this terror to be on notice that you will face severe criminal penalties and lengthy sentences in jail.”
Just before the speech, federal police sprayed tear gas on peaceful protesters surrounding the White House an hour before curfew started, apparently to clear the way for the president to March to St. John’s Cathedral. At least nine heavy-duty military tanks were seen rolling into the White House earlier that evening, carrying hundreds of tan-clad military police. Hundreds more National Guardsmen were also on the way to the capitol from five other U.S. cities.
In New York, a protester from Brooklyn said he was unsurprised by the crackdown on peaceful protesters in Washington.
“George Floyd was killed as an innocent man. Nothing they do surprises me,” Dennis Leid, 37, told The Daily Beast. “You could tell me they pulled up in a fucking flyer saucer at this point and I would not be surprised.”
Meanwhile, in the Fishtown neighborhood of Philadelphia, a contingent of mostly white locals armed with bats, clubs—and in one case, a long garden shovel—decided to mount their own opposition to the protesters. They claimed to be protecting local businesses from looters, but at least one person claimed the group attacked him after he tried to film them.
“I got called out for recording them and they beat the shit out of me and pushed my girlfriend,” tweeted journalist Jon Ehrens.
The demonstrators initially said they had the blessing of local police, telling The Daily Beast that the cops “said we’re fine because we’re not out here causing trouble.” But even after police told them to disperse, a group stuck around, branding their weapons and shouting “asshole!” at their opponents across a four-lane thoroughfare. One, Oliver Cromof, jokingly called himself a white nationalist while talking to a black friend about his struggle to contain the energy in the Fishtown camp.
Some of the anti-police brutality protesters said it seemed unfair that the locals were being let go while they were being threatened with arrest.
“No one is armed over here, but look over there,” one middle-aged woman said. “And they’re letting them go home.”