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Defying the First Curfew in New York City Since 1943

Last night Democrats Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio imposed the first curfew in New York City since 1943. Despite the curfew, protesters demonstrating against racist and police violence remained defiant.

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Image: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

On Monday night, Democrats Governor Cuomo and Mayor DeBlasio placed an 11pm curfew on New York City. This was the first curfew in New York since 1943 (which was also implemented by a mayor to quell protests after police murdered an African American man), and the act was a clear escalation of repression against the protesters. Left Voice attended Monday night’s Manhattan protest primarily to provide coverage on what happened after the curfew passed. Would people resist the curfew, and would they face repression? 

The protest began in Union Square, but protestors later marched further downtown, leaving the area essentially empty except for some stragglers, press, and a few groups of people looting the stores. By and large, the police left those looting alone, except to drive by with sirens to force them to temporarily scatter. Journalists were all over the area, and, as soon as a window got smashed, a journalist was there with a camera. In contrast, very few journalists were covering the march. This is reflected in today’s headlines, which show a lot of coverage of the looting that took place primarily in Union Square, 5th Avenue, and 34th street, but hardly any mention of the march or the mass arrests that took place later on. This seems to be an intentional tactic utilized by the NYPD to increase public dismay over looting in order to justify the use of more draconian force against protestors in the coming days. 

The main group of protestors had originally gathered in Brooklyn before marching over the bridge into Manhattan. This demonstration seemed more organized than the previous protests in NYC over the last several days. Volunteers scouted ahead on bikes and skateboards, and leaders used megaphones to emphasize the importance of sticking together as a group. While Bill DeBlasio and the NYPD seems to think this is evidence of “organized anarchist groups from outside the city,” anyone actually involved in the protests knows these are simple safety precautions loosely arranged via crowdsourced volunteers. Other “evidence” of anarchist plotting cited by DeBlasio includes preparations by volunteer medics and community bail funds. In fact, whenever individuals within the main body of marchers tried to cause property damage, other protestors routinely shouted them down. 

At 10:59pm, one minute before curfew, the crowd began counting down, with an energy reminiscent of New Year’s Eve. As clocks ticked over to 11, the protestors cheered and continued their march, heading up 5th Avenue before cutting west toward Times Square.

It is not an exaggeration to state that every single officer our correspondents saw on Monday night had black tape over their badge number, which seems to have become the explicit policy of the NYPD in these protest scenarios. The NYPD has also developed the tactic, which our correspondents have observed several times over the last few days, of driving a non-police emergency vehicle (like an ambulance or a firetruck) down a street to split the protesters, who voluntarily move to let the vehicle through. These tactics are illegal and are designed to allow cops to use lethal force with impunity as was the case with David McAtee. Police vehicles follow closely behind to take advantage of the temporary dispersal. Additionally, fire trucks are now being used to block roads. 

The cops were relatively unconcerned with the looting and did little to enforce the curfew until around 11:30, when they formed a battle line behind the protest and charged forward at protesters to send them scattering. After this had happened several times, the call went out to “take them all.” Police blocked all the roadways out of the avenue that the march was on and also blocked off all of the subway entrances. This left protesters basically no way to get out, making them sitting ducks. 

The NYPD is reporting that around 700 arrests were made last night, nearly doubling NYC’s total number of protest arrests since May 28. However, news media like NBC and ABC are attributing the arrests to the looters, whom the NYPD left largely unmolested for hours, rather than the marchers trapped by them in the street near Times Square. Those listening to police scanner airwaves reported hearing orders to “start making arrests, round ‘em up,” “start picking ‘em off” and officers who said they “just want to grab some bodies” and instructed others to “go take a knee,” which some have taken to indicate a tactic of demonstrating solidarity with protestors to placate them before making more arrests. The locations referenced on the scanners in the hours after 11:30 show most activity taking place within 20 blocks of Times Square, suggesting that they were primarily chasing down those who had been involved in the march.

The police are intentionally framing the protestors as mindless, angry mobs destroying “the community” (which in this case mostly refers to stores owned by large multinational corporations), and the media are reproducing this narrative by uncritically relying on NYPD sources and concentrating their own journalists on the areas with less socially acceptable protest activity (such as property damage and stealing). This view of events is misleading at best and draws attention away from the very real and very serious problems of systemic racism and the violence capitalism inflicts upon the working class every day.”

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Ezra Brain

Ezra is a NYC based theatre artist and teacher.

Olivia Wood

Olivia is a writer and editor at Left Voice and lecturer in English at the City University of New York (CUNY).

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