Peaceful Protests in Bay Ridge Inspire Supportive Neighborhood
For the second night in a row, the George Floyd protests in Bay Ridge go peacefully
As protests against police brutality towards Black people continued this past weekend throughout the country, some of them were turning violent. So when notices began to spread on social media that another protest was going to take place in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Sunday night, there was some curiosity and concern. Bay Ridge had not seen too many protests regarding the death of George Floyd, and the many others before him.
But then came word that the notices were either fake or a hoax. Some Bay Ridge residents wondered on local Facebook groups if these protests were being set up by Antifa or even white supremacist groups, whom made their presence known earlier this year. Local organizations, such as Bay Ridge Cares, Fight Back Bay Ridge, and Bay Ridge for Social Justice, denied organizing this protest, and warned that the calls may be fake.
Even so, 31 year-old Aron Young, who has lived in the neighborhood for several years, went to the designated location, on 86th Street between 4th and 5th Streets at about 8pm, the time the protest was to begin.
“Everyone’s got to go out and do something about it,” Young says, referring to the protests against police brutality all across the country.
But when he went to stand in front of the Century 21 department store, he began receiving messages from friends about the possibility of this being all a hoax. But he chose to wait it out. Police officers were on either end of the street, though there was no clear crowd or protest yet.
Between 8:15pm — 8:20pm, while Young stood outside the store, an SUV drove up with four guys. One them flashed a light on him, which made Young uneasy, and he sensed aggression from this group.
“I’m the only Black guy out there, and there’s other people standing around!” he says.
Young explains that one of the guys said to him, “You’re not doing that sh*t here.”
“What sh*t?” Young replied. The four guys in the SUV then drove off.
After waiting around some more, Young decided to head over to The Hideout, a bar up 5th avenue, not far from 86th Street. He then saw a friend, Bailey Garcia, age 28 and a life-long Bay Ridge resident, along with her mother, and decided to go back to the spot with them.
“I didn’t think it was true,” Garcia says about first seeing the messages on social media. “So I decided to just pass by and see.”
When the three got there, a few more people showed up, with a crowd of about 20 people. But nothing was happening. Garcia remembers that everyone seemed a little uneasy.
“It’s like many here think the authority is the way to go,” she says, noting how Bay Ridge largely supports cops since many of family or friends in the NYPD.
But the atmosphere changed on 86 Street when a 12 year-old girl suddenly called out, “Black lives matter!”
That prompted everyone else to start chanting, and the protest began.
Both Young and Garcia also say the group was mostly made up of young people, about 50 of them. It was also a mix of white, Hispanic and Arab-Americans in the group, showing how diverse Bay Ridge is.
“It was pretty exciting,” Garcia says. “There were more people than I thought, and it meant more actually cared. There was something about the chanting that there’s hope.”
At first, the protesters marched around the block of 86th Street and 87th Street between 4th and 5th Avenues. Then they began to march up 5th Avenue. All along the way, there were many supporters, with people cheering from their apartment windows above.
“It was very nice for the neighborhood to show support,” Young says. “It was a nice peaceful walk.”
There were some sour points though. A few locals walking by cried out, “Go home!” or “Shut the f*ck up!”. An older man approached the 12 year-old who began the chants and asked her where her mother was, and her mother was right there.
Garcia says an older man, who had always seemed a little odd around a person of color, came to the group to start chanting, “Blue lives matter!”. The cops told him to leave the crowd alone.
There was also a few young men on skateboards who looked suspicious because they were completely covered up with masks and hoodies. Garcia explains it was odd to see them, and it made others wary if these young men were looking to insinuate a riot, as it appears to have happened during many other protests.
Young says when he approached one of them, the kid said he was with them.
When asked if he was there for George Floyd, Young says the kid replied, “Who’s George Floyd?”. They told him to leave the march, as he clearly wasn’t there to protest against police brutality.
Other than that, the protest went along very well with no arrests, assaults, vandalizing or looting. Even the police didn’t bother anyone.
“Mostly the cops were being there for us, rather than against us,” Young says. “They weren’t rude, they gave us space. They would just say get on the sidewalk, but the cops were friendly. No one wanted anything negative.”
“You didn’t feel they were following us to stop any riots,” Garcia says. “It was like, for once, this is not so terrible!”
Both accounts sounds completely different of the many reports, videos and photographs of cops all over the country, and even New York City, using aggression and even violence against protesters, most of whom were being civil. But Young has a perspective that could help understand how cops operate.
“They’re like the Boy Scouts,” he explains. “They band together, they stick together.” He also says one precinct may set out to do one thing, while another will do something different, like retaliate. Young added it would be great if all precincts communicated to each other.
The protest went so well Sunday night, that another one was planned the following day at 6pm, at the same location. This time, the neighborhood was more aware that the protest was authentic and that it went peacefully. Many came out to see out of curiosity.
But some weren’t too supportive of the protests. One woman, a lifelong Bay Ridge resident who declined to give her name, says the protests, while fine, are getting old.
“Nobody likes what [Chauvin] did,” the woman says, explaining her family are ‘cop lovers’. “What he did was wrong, but he’s been fired.”
There was even an incident when a middle-aged man across the street from the crowd, turned his back to that the crowd will be a background for a photo a friend took of him, in which he held up a sign that said, “Jeffrey Epstein Didn’t Kill Himself.”
Overall, though, the atmosphere was supportive. Cars drove by, with drivers beeping their horns in solidarity. The protest group appeared to be just under a hundred, with many 35 years and younger, though some older people were taking part.
After vowing to keep their protest peaceful, the group started chanting their slogans, and began marching up 5th Avenue. All the while, chanting “Black lives matter”, “I can’t breathe”, “no more racist police” and so on.
As they marched up 5th Avenue, many shop owners and patrons watched from the doorway, some smiling, some using their smartphones to document the event. More drivers beeped their horns in support, and plenty of residents poked their heads out of their apartment buildings to watch. There seemed to be little negativity, and mostly support.
The protest made a turn onto Bay Ridge Parkway, where the supportive residents of the neighborhood showed their solidarity the most. One woman brought out a drum to bang away, while her neighbor stood on her porch with her fist raised. Some families stood on their porch, applauding and cheering on the crowd. One young man, poking his head out of a multi-story apartment building, called for justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Eric Garner, Breonna Taylor, and so many others.
Onto 3rd Avenue, the same support was in the air. Many others stood and watched, more drivers beeped their horns, business owners watched with both amazement, and even humility, as though realizing that the protest mattered. One store owner had a proud smile on her face. One driver beeped his horn excitedly, and his female companion was seen smiling with joy at the sight of the protest. Both appeared to be Hispanic.
Two young women, both new residents of Bay Ridge, were near a bench between 85th and 84th. They didn’t seem to be part of the protest, but were clearly moved by it. One of them, Jennifer, who is Black, is in tears.
“This is amazing,” she says. “I’m scared for myself and my husband. But this is beautiful.”
Next to her, Lauren, who is white, adds, “These times are really scary. There’s no positive from a death, but this?” She looked amazed.
The protest returned to it’s initial spot for more chants. At one point, they all kneeled while chanting. About a half hour later, the protest again went up its original route.
Young again was filming the event, as he did Sunday. Again, nothing negative happened, no assaults, looting or vandalism. The only downside, Young reported, was at the end when people got rowdy when they wanted the cops to kneel.
“But maybe around 8:30pm is when people started to disburse,” Young reports via Facebook Messenger. “It was emotional. I saw a lot of people crying, its powerful, just wished all [the protests in the country] were peaceful.”
Garcia wasn’t at the Monday protest, but did watch Young’s video and noticed how insensitive the comments were. There were accusations that the protesters were against white people.
“Fact of the matter is,” Garcia says. “Police brutality is against Black men, women, transgender people. It happens again and again. Does anyone care?”
Assemblymember Mathylde Frontus, who has Bay Ridge residents among her constituents, thinks some people misunderstand what the protests are all about.
“The protests are not about gratuitous violence,” she explains in a phone interview. “They’re expressing their outrage. People are angry. That’s why people are out in the streets.”
Frontus adds the fact that the Bay Ridge protests were peaceful did not strike her as unusual, because most of them are, she says.
“Other people may come with an agenda. They’re not protesting against white supremacy, and they come to infiltrate.” She compares those instigators who have made the peaceful protests nationwide violent to Dylann Roof, the white supremacist took part in a Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina, before killing all nine Black people in attendance back in 2015.
“But we’re sophisticated enough to know about what it’s about,” she adds. “[The instigators] are uninvited and we tell them to leave.”
Other community leaders are expressing pride in how Bay Ridge’s protests have been going.
“I believe the demonstrations were peaceful and supported by the community because we are a tight-knit community,” says the chairperson of Community Board 10, Lori Willis. “Our police officers, residents, and local merchants all know and respect one another, and we all want the best for our community.”
City Councilman Justin Brannan echoes the same sentiment. “The 68th Precinct also deserves credit for giving the protestors a lot of space and respect. This is not the 68th Precinct’s first rodeo — we have an active neighborhood, and local protests happen here often, so they know how to keep things respectful and peaceful.”
Brannan continues via an emailed statement: “It is a very anxious time in our city and country, so I take some solace when I see young people and families from our community marching to show they are committed to making our city a more just and equitable place. We are lucky to be living in a district which is so politically engaged, compassionate, and respectful to one another.”
There likely will be other protests in Bay Ridge. There is going to be another one Wednesday evening, starting near Bay Ridge Avenue. But given the state of the country, there’s a chance people in Bay Ridge will continue to protest against police brutality and racism against Black people.
“I do hope this brings about change,” Garcia says. “We’re going to keep being peaceful. People actually care, but some need to stop worrying about brick and mortar, and care more about real lives being lost. Not all cops are here to protect us.”
“Humanity is just weird,” Young says. “ You got the positive who just want a positive outcome, the middle, and then the negative who are the agitators.”
“If you’re from Bay Ridge, you love Bay Ridge,” he adds. “No one wants to see this neighborhood to be destroyed.”
Megan McGibney is a freelance journalist who is turning to Medium to publish her work due to many publications having tight budgets these days. A native New Yorker, she is a graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY. To learn more, here’s her website: www.meganmcgibney.com