A doubled police force and threats from President Trump did little to stop protests over the death of George Floyd in New York, where peaceful demonstrations gave way to looting and chaos across the city Monday night.
Meanwhile, large gangs of white counter-protesters loitered unmolested in multiple neighborhoods of Philadelphia in the latest jarring scenes of unrest in that city.
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.
On Tuesday, Mayor Bill De Blasio said 700 people were arrested—the highest numbers since the protests started last week. He also announced that New York City would remain under an 8 p.m. curfew throughout the week.
“We will not tolerate violence of any kind. We will not tolerate attacks on police officers. We will not tolerate hatred being created,” de Blasio said. “We saw vicious attacks on police officers. That is wholly unacceptable. That does not represent the people of this city. Anyone who attacks a police officer attacks all of us.”
Starting around 5 p.m. Monday, 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 storefronts around midtown—smashing windows, playing music, and lighting fires.
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.”
The looting continued into Chelsea, where many storefronts not covered by metal grills sported broken windows Monday night. A security guard outside a looted liquor store said he worked for the building, and that a group of young people had “just smashed their way in,” and made off with bottles of alcohol. Some of those bottles were also smashed, alongside the shards of the store’s window outside, and spilt alcohol stained the pavement.
Asked why more arrests hadn’t been made, a NYPD officer replied, “We’re spread pretty thin.”
Joe Devivo—a former NYPD officer now standing guard over a Club Monaco store in Midtown—agreed, saying the police department seemed overwhelmed. His security firm was also hired to guard Nike stores and Saks Fifth Avenue Monday night, and some of his colleagues reported they had been outnumbered by looters.
“All they could do was just move out of the way,” he said.
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.”
In Philadelphia, more than two-dozen people were arrested after police turned tear gas and rubber bullets on hundreds of protesters marching down the Vine Street Expressway. Philadelphia police also told protesters they would be arrested for breaking the 6 p.m. curfew, according to the local CBS station.
Groups of mainly white counter-protesters roamed the streets of South Philly and Fishtown, brandishing bats, clubs, shovels, and guns. They claimed to be protecting local businesses from looters, but at least one person said a group attacked him after he tried to film them.
Other social media users accused the counter-protesters of pushing and spitting on them, and a video showed what appeared to be a group of the men ripping a Black Lives Matter sign from a woman's arms.
Asked about the police curfew, one of the South Philly protesters told The Daily Beast: “They’re not gonna bother us. I think they respect what we’re doing.”
A group of about 75 men in Fishtown brandished their weapons and shouted “asshole!” at protesters across a four-lane thoroughfare until the police quietly told the group to go home.
“We have this,” a supervisor said of the anti-police brutality protesters. “We’re going to arrest them if they don’t leave.”
Across the street, some of the anti-police brutality group said it seemed unfair that the men were being let go while their group was 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.”