About 1,000 protesters decrying police brutality marched in Manhattan Friday at a May Day rally that took on a new message amid national outrage over a Baltimore man's death in police custody.
Days after over 140 demonstrators' arrests in New York spurred complaints about police conduct, participants streamed through blocked-off streets, bearing signs with such messages as "Disarm the NYPD" and "Justice for Freddie Gray," the 25-year-old who died in Baltimore. The march came hours after Baltimore's top prosecutor announced charges against six officers in his death from a broken neck.
The news made Destiny Glenn, a 19-year-old college student, all the more determined to attend the march that began in New York's Union Square.
"I'm very upset, and I'm tired of police brutality," Glenn said. "Lives are being disregarded. It's just stunning."
Chanting "the whole damn system is guilty as hell. Resist. Rebel," and "throw killer cops in jail," protesters headed downtown from Union Square in streets that police had blocked off to accommodate the march.
While at least one man was arrested after he tried to jump over a police barricade, the procession generally went calmly until a brief standoff when protesters demanded that officers open a barricade on a lower Manhattan street, but ultimately decided to move on.
But after the march reached its scheduled end at a lower Manhattan plaza, tensions flared as some protesters continued marching on nearby streets. As police used a loudspeaker to order the demonstrators to get onto the sidewalk, some protesters shouted back.
Some activists and elected officials had criticized the NYPD's handling of protests Wednesday over Gray's death, saying police were overly aggressive while arresting more than 140 people. Police had told marchers that they should stay on a sidewalk and in a prescribed area; arrests were made after some demonstrators splintered off, trying to get on a highway and block tunnel entrances.
Ahead of Friday's demonstration, Police Commissioner William Bratton said officers would try to be flexible, up to a point.
"We're more than willing to work with them and just allow them to get their point across — but work with us, not against us."
If necessary, "we'll step in appropriately," he said.
To activists, Wednesday's arrests were a startling turnaround from the city's handling of days of protests in December after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer in the chokehold death of Eric Garner. Then, protesters walked freely in streets and shut down some of Manhattan's main thoroughfares.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Thursday there had been no fundamental change in the NYPD's approach to demonstrators: "We won't tolerate illegality. We won't tolerate disorder," he said.
Like other May Day rallies around the country, the New York demonstration was initially planned to champion workers' and immigrants' rights but expanded its focus in the wake of Gray's death.
Aieche Boutantone said she was there to support immigrants, saying some who are in the country illegally are unfairly targeted by police and then deported.
"We're fighting against the criminalization of our community," Boutantone said. She added she was there to support demonstrators in Baltimore: "Because it can happen to any of us."
May Day demonstrators also gathered outside the Manhattan home of Walmart heiress Alice Walton before rallying at a nearby plaza.