Earlier in the week, the NYPD made close to 70 arrests over the course of two nights of demonstrations as the streets of New York City were filled with frustration that ultimately led to clashes with police — but Friday there was a fairly different vibe in the air.
A group in Washington Square Park celebrated Friday night, with participants happy with the ongoing results coming out of Pennsylvania and Georgia that showed Democratic nominee Joe Biden with leads in states pivotal to him being elected president.
Between 300-400 people joined in as the group sang songs by the park's fountain under the lights of the Empire State Building, and soon after danced their way down Fifth Avenue and worked their way east toward Union Square.
It was a similar mood in Brooklyn, were several dozen people went to Fort Greene Park to cheer on what appears to be a widening path to victory for former Vice President Biden over Republican incumbent President Donald Trump.
The joy and celebration on Friday was in stark comparison to the heated and sometimes violent confrontations between police and protesters earlier in the week. On Thursday, a large group was seen in the early evening at The Stonewall Inn, with the street right outside packed full of hundreds of protesters calling for the election to be protected. That Greenwich Village demonstration appeared peaceful, and the NYPD's Strategic Response Group was at the scene alongside protesters.
But as the group snaked its way through Manhattan streets into the night, officers on bikes moved in, causing tensions to rise. Several protesters were taken into custody, and New York City Public Advocate Jumaane Williams was seen engaged in a heated exchange with officers instructing the crowd to move back and off the street.
"The aggression always seems to be more than it needs to be at any moment in time. And it is a valid question to be asking why," Williams said Friday.
Police said it was in the Noho neighborhood where things began to get testy, with a confrontation between a protester and police taking a violent turn. An officer was pushed to the ground and had a chain pressed against his throat, police said. Other officers arrested the suspect, who was later charged with assault and attempted strangulation.
There were 18 arrests made along the route the demonstrators took, but it wasn't immediately clear if those people were protesters with some of the groups, or other individuals. The group eventually made its way to Union Square, where police lined up along the sidewalk in order to keep the roads clear.
On his weekly call into The Brian Lehrer Show, Mayor Bill de Blasio on Friday took back-to-back calls from New Yorkers wanting the mayor to answer for another night of violence between police and demonstrators. He pushed back on the idea that videos circling social media reflect an overwhelming police presence in response to largely peaceful groups.
"I don't think the videos are always a clear piece of evidence as these are sometimes portrayed as," de Blasio told callers. "What you see in front of your eyes is not always the full story."
“A small group of people who aim to do violence, who bring tools of violence and it’s caused a different approach to be necessary,” the mayor told Lehrer. Mayor de Blasio did not provide specifics as to what violence prompted police to arrest at least 18 people Thursday.
The NYPD said that the use of force seen in some videos only happens after protesters try to collectively block officers from arresting specific individuals.
"When somebody throws a rock, throws a bottle, defies a lawful order, and police move in to arrest that person — the person fights the arrest," said Deputy NYPD Commissioner John Miller. "At that point, a number of people try to pull the person back into the crowd and end up physically struggling with police ... it's being exploited by creating videos labeled as police attacking peaceful protesters."
At a Thursday afternoon press conference in front of 1 Police Plaza ahead of the protests, Commissioner Dermot Shea said the NYPD had the safety of all in mind as well as honoring the rights of protesters.
"As the uncertainty continues, we have a couple of priorities here in New York City," he said. "No. 1 we want to respect the people’s rights to protest. We’ve seen a number of protests throughout New York City and we expect that to continue for the foreseeable future. We will continue to maintain contact with those that are holding protests and maintain their rights to hold those protests…couple of other things that we are concerned about is that we have to make sure that if those protests do occur that the people that are protesting are safe as well as the community at large."
Shea also said it was a very small faction of the protesters who had gotten violent, whereas most of those participating were doing so peacefully.
NYPD Chief of Patrol Juanita Holmes, who was also present at the press conference, addressed the incidents of the previous night as well.
"I was there with [NYPD officers], I heard the hurtful things that were being said to them and saw what they accomplished. I applaud them for their composure and their professionalism," she said. "We saw people with intent on disrupting peaceful protesters, intent of destruction. A small number of individuals have no regard for the safety of the peaceful protesters. Some choose violence, officers were struck, weapons were recovered, including a crowbar, knives, tasers, illegal fireworks. One individual thought it was OK to spit in an officer's face."
Holmes also addressed the so-called police tactic of "kettling," a method of crowd control used to keep protesters in certain smaller areas that has drawn criticism from advocates. She denied that it was used during Wednesday's protests, or was even a method used by the NYPD at all.
"There is also the term of kettling ... Kettling is not used by this department," she said. "It is not in any of our patrol guidelines and procedures nor is it part of any of our training. The goal was to avoid making arrests."
At the press conference held by NYPD Thursday afternoon, officials also shared what they termed as an "evolution" of tactics used by some individuals infiltrating the protests, including the use of propaganda made by individuals as far away as Hong Kong "that outlined whose job it was to throw objects at police, whose job it was to record the police response on camera, whose job it was to set fires, whose job it was to break windows." These same tactics, according to NYPD officials, were seen in Portland, Seattle, Minneapolis and now in New York City.
However, the NYPD has stressed that "What we have for the most part is groups of peaceful protesters."
Police say more upwards of 50 people were arrested in Wednesday's protests, including a woman who was seen calling an NYPD officer a "fascist" and spitting on him, but there were no reports of widespread destruction that many stores across the five boroughs with boarded up windows expected.
Among the people arrested was 24-year-old Devina Singh of Schwenksville, Pennsylvania, who was allegedly seen spitting on a law enforcement officer in a video posted by a New York Post reporter, according to an NYPD spokesperson. Singh faced several charges and has prior arrests for resisting arrest and unlawful assembly.
"Actions like this will not be tolerated. Agitators who commit these acts will be arrested," the NYPD's Twitter account said in reaction to the footage. (Warning: the video below contains profanity.)
NBC New York was unable to contact Singh, but she told the New York Post that she spit on the officer because police were "hitting us with their bikes repeatedly ... and attacking people."
De Blasio said during his Thursday coronavirus press hearing that this is not the first time the city has seen outside agitators coming into the city during protests, including during the protests against police brutality during the summer. However, the mayor went on to say that the number of demonstrators taking to the streets overall is far less than what was originally anticipated.
"I think we can safely say that the vast majority of people simply want to see the election results counted fairly. They want to know a result as soon as possible and then we are all in a position to then move forward," he said, adding that he doesn't see a "particular problem" at the moment with numerous out-of-state agitators. "What the majority of New Yorkers want is just a peaceful approach to this election dynamic and the ability to move forward and move on."
When asked during his Thursday coronavirus press briefing about reports of possible instances of police violence against protesters, de Blasio said he is still reviewing all the information of what took place during the protests and plans to further communicate with police officials regarding the specifics of last night. However, he did say the city cannot allow violence, although de-escalation of any situation is always the goal.
"We cannot allow violence. Let's be clear. Attacks on people, setting fires, attacks on officers, attacks on property, we just can't allow that and we won't," de Blasio said. "But at the same time, the goal is always to de-escalate and that is what is important."
De Blasio also said that anyone who partakes in violence "will experience the consequences."
"The vast majority of people who protest protest peacefully, we know that," he said. "The vast majority come out out of concern for their community and their country. Very few do acts of violence, but those who do violence, will really, have to understand, there's going to be real consequences for them."
Officers at the rallies said they confiscated weapons from some members of the crowds, including stun guns, M80 fireworks and dagger-style knives.