A protest that began on Thursday night on Christopher Street in Manhattan ended up at Union Square in confrontations between police and protestors. I didn't intend to go to the protest, but I was meeting up with a friend for drinks around 10 pm at The Magician on Rivington Street. I had time to kill between when my son's dad picked him up for the evening and when I was meant to meet up with Kelly, so I figured I'd check it out.
Manhattan is big. I figured the protest would be in the West Village, near Christopher Street, so I asked the Uber to drop me off near West 4th Street and went in search of the civil action. I walked east, down by Washington Square Park. I saw the helicopters hovering so I tried to follow them a bit, but I was on the ground and they were in the sky. I checked Twitter, it looked like they were heading down Lafayette, so I went that way. It was the wrong way. I went south, should have gone north.
I asked a drug dealer on a bike at the corner of Houston and MacDougal if he'd seen where the protestors had gone, and he said "Biden won, what are they protesting?" It was a good question, and I intended to find out.
I followed the police lights – let them guide me. Found the blocked off streets, wondered how big a protest could be in downtown New York if I couldn't even find it. It was a weekly protest, one that has been held near Stonewall, in the West Village – great neighbourhood, vibrant, gay, artsy, paradise. They were moving fast. Twitter said there'd been arrests, officers had been kettling people off, Anna Slatz said so too. I tried to track it.
Turned north. Walking up Lafayette, outside the Public Theater where my friend Michael Friedman was memorialized a few years ago, miss him still. Cop SUV's were parked outside, a whole row of them. Two officers leaning against a facing hood. each smoking cigarettes. A woman walked up to them, her man in tow.
"Are they out again tonight?" She asked them.
"Up at Union Square," one cop said, giving me the information I needed. "It's the Battle of Union Square," he said. "We won it last night and we're about to win it again."
"Well, God bless you," the woman said. I headed north. Police vans lined the streets. Under cover with lights, no sirens, skirted traffic, dodged between the cabs and Ubers.
As I got closer to Union Square I hoped I wouldn't miss the action. I made quick work of ten blocks and was upon the park. It was flanked by cops on all sides, cops in what are called "turtle shells," intense gear that made them look like gladiators, ninja turtles, transformers, paint ball enthusiasts. I entered the park from the east side, took the protest from the back.
There was a prayer in progress, a woman leading the protestors in some kind of worship of Jesus Christ. I thought: I could get on board with this, but why are they? What's even going on here? They declared, via call and response, some 100 people, that they were there to fight against 2020, to take it back, and with the power of Jesus. A black trans woman in a sequined teal gown took over after that, and I remembered this was an LGBTQIA+ etc. march after all.
I took some photos, I spotted Anna Slatz off to the side, I went to say hi. She thought at first I was someone called Rebecca, but I wasn't. We chatted for a bit. She thought it might all die down, people might just disperse and go home. She told me there'd already been some arrests, and went back to looking at her phone. "It was nice catching up with you," I said, and thought I might be on my way.
There were so many cops, almost at least as many as there were protestors, maybe even more. As I exited the park on the south east side I happened upon a large contingent of bike cops. I asked a guy on the corner what he thought would happen. He was guarded at first, but then we talked for a bit, and he told me what he really thought. I told him I worked for The Post Millennial and he said he'd caught some of our stuff, liked it.
I asked him what he thought would happen. He had the same view as Anna, either the protestors would engage or they would disperse. But his take on what was going on was different.
"They're bored," he said, "we all are."
"Alot of it's the social thing," he told me. "These kids want to have a party, who can blame them." He said that while they were out there guarding the children of the one percenters' right to protest in the park, to march around the city, and to shout insults at cops, people were getting shot in Brownsville, and crime was increasing.
A young woman leaned out the back window of a sleek, black, Chevy Suburban and shouted "F—ck you! All cops are bastards!" While filming the cops on her phone and flipping them off.
A group of young men on bikes pulled up at the corner to tell the cops they suck. "You're a waste of money, you're a waste of resources," they said.
The officers on the corner applauded them, "So brave! So brave!" The officers cheered as the light changed and the cyclists rode away.
Before he left on his own bike, strapping on his elaborate helmet, the officer introduced himself, and we shook hands, even though you're not supposed to during the pandemic. There was a moment of uncertainty before we placed palms in each others' hands, and then we did it anyway, we touched like human beings used to.
NYPD flanked the park, with the bike officers in their turtle shells, and guys who looked more like they were fitted out for riots, carrying batons, and some exec types in suits. Everyone was waiting for something to happen, and no one could quite tell if they wanted something to go down or not. The officer told me he'd rather not, but they were prepared for it.
Officers began to line up across the street on the south side of the park in front of a Whole Foods, protestors on the opposite side of the street, their backs to the park. Behind them, on benches, people ate take-out and barely even noticed a disturbance. A woman asked an officer if he thought she'd be able to get into the Burlington Coat Factory. I wouldn't have tried it myself.
Tensions mounted for no other reason than that was the whole point of everyone being there. It was a standoff, officers on one side, protestors on the other, with 14th Street between them. City busses rumbled through.
As protestors stepped into the street, officers took the opportunity to tell them to push back out of traffic. And they arrested a young man.
I spoke to his friend, who said he was arrested for standing in the street when the cops told him to move back. She wanted to find a way to spring him from custody. She was frantic, not knowing what to do or where to turn.
I saw her telling officers "You're so miserable. Get your life together." The officer thanked her.
Officers pushed into the park and surrounding the protestors, and the standoff was renewed, with everyone taking up new positions.
After tense words, the officers went back across the street. The protestors played the Imperial March from Star Wars.
After the young man who was arrested, loaded into the back of a police van it seemed like the climax had passed. And by then I was late for drinks. I headed out down 4th Ave. After half a block, even looking north to the park and the flashing lights, it was as though there'd been no protest at all. Five students sat on a bench eating kebobs from a food cart. Another half block and the city was quiet, save for traffic. I was too late to walk the 15 blocks down to Rivington St., to the neighbourhood I knew and loved so well. I hailed a cab.
Open air restaurants were full, couples walked hand in hand in matching face masks, and the city was as it was, unaffected, unimpacted, quiet, serene.