As many stores across New York City kept their windows boarded up following an unpredictable Election Night that featured little in terms of protests, city officials and the NYPD say they're prepared for anything over the coming days.
On Wednesday, the first large demonstration took to the streets in midtown Manhattan, demanding that every vote be counted across the country. Hundreds of protesters marched down Fifth Avenue in the organized and peaceful demonstration, which was led by bicycles to help clear intersections of traffic. There was also a large police presence alongside the group, allowing them to march.
The march started with just a few dozen people near the public library, and grew exponentially by the time it reached Washington Square Park, where nearly 1,000 people gathered. As the night wore on, the NYPD said that garbage fires had been started in different parts the West Village, with police arresting more than 20 people. The NYPD said those arrested hijacked a peaceful protest by lighting fires, throwing garbage and eggs at police. It was not immediately clear what charges they faced.
There were some other tense moments between officers and protesters just a block north of Washington Square Park. Police set up bicycle blockades to stop protesters from marching on Fifth Avenue near East 8th Street, instead guiding them on to the sidewalk. Some demonstrators pushed through, resulting in confrontations and eventual arrests.
Police said that group was not connected to the earlier groups who marched down from midtown. There were also 14 arrests made at separate protests near Union Square for obstructing governmental administration and unlawful assembly.
Officers at the rallies said they confiscated weapons from some members of the crowds, including stun guns, M80 fireworks and dagger-style knives.
A night before, there were little to no reports of any Election night mayhem or even any heated protests. Just before 10 p.m., a crowd gathered and marched near Washington Square Park, while another crowd of largely Trump supporters was seen outside Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. A large police presence was seen at both locations and the demonstrators, most of whom were social justice advocates who have been marching for months, were peaceful.
Despite the mayor saying there had been no "specific threat," businesses across the five boroughs wanted to avoid violent scenes that played out last summer when small groups destroyed property and looted merchandise amid protests over the death of George Floyd.
Businesses from Macy’s flagship store in Herald Square to high-end shops in Manhattan’s chic SoHo neighborhood to mom and pop shops in the Bronx had covered their windows in preparation for Election week.
A number of rallies had been planned for Tuesday afternoon into the evening in Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx — where some businesses, such as those along Grand Concourse and East Fordham Road, also boarded up.
"There's some people who are opportunists, regardless of what the results are," said Bronx community activist Wilfredo Ruiz. "It's the experience that they've had which is why they are being extra cautious. Whichever way it goes, there may be troublemakers on either side."
While some Bronx small business owners said they are hopeful and were not going to take precautions, one said he planned on closing up early and huddling inside as he waited for the results to come in.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday New York City was "ready for every eventuality, but there's nothing specifically showing up at this moment that causes alarm."
"There are no major protests scheduled at this point," de Blasio added. "Here's the bottom line: Our job representing all of you is to make sure everyone votes, everyone is heard, and to continue in that spirit in the days and weeks ahead, whatever the outcome, no matter how long it takes."
For weeks, de Blasio has said any peaceful protests would be respected and facilitated but warned that any violence would be stopped immediately.
"We will not allow any violence. I want to be clear once again about this," he said Tuesday.
A day earlier, Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged New Yorkers to try to contain their emotions until the final results are in, which he said could take some time "given the unique circumstances of the election." He also emphasized the point de Blasio made earlier in the day -- that protests are fine until people break the law. When that happens, the governor said, enforcement will be done accordingly.
The NYPD said Tuesday it had thousands of cops already on the streets and would deploy more over the coming days to stem any potential unrest. Previously, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea acknowledged that any protests may be ongoing for weeks, given the unpredictability of what he described as "one of the most highly contested presidential elections in the modern era."
In a mid-afternoon Election Day briefing, Chief Terence Monahan, the highest-ranked uniformed member of the NYPD reinforced the department's plans to facilitate peaceful protests. He also had a message for potential disruptors.
"Don't even try it," Monahan said. "We know who you are. And you will be arrested."
The police chief said that officers would be pre-deployed in known areas where demonstrations have taken place over the past couple of months. While the NYPD said that the goal is for officers to simply remain in the background and let the voices of potential protesters be heard, any problems that arise will be addressed.
"We do not see that threat that we saw back in May and June repeating itself. We will be out there," he added. "Rest assured that the NYPD has got great intelligence and we will be monitoring anyone who may try to cause any mayhem in the city."
Monahan also urged peaceful protesters to separate themselves from any potential agitators and not allow their messages to be hijacked. Newly appointed chief of patrol Juanita Holmes said only one incident had emerged by 3 p.m.; she said it wasn't worth mentioning, but likely was referring to one in Brooklyn.
Retailers aren't taking any chances. Some in midtown Manhattan boarded up their windows well ahead of Election Day amid concerns over potential unrest. Experts have said it's unlikely the country has a definitive winner for days or even weeks as mail-in votes are counted. Still, there may be partisan claims of victory. The NYPD anticipates any protests could last into the beginning of next year.
It's not just NYPD standing at the ready. The Guardian Angels announced over the weekend they would have thousands of volunteers in place across the city for "possible rioting and unrest" that develop on Election Day.
"There is pure hate, the people who support Trump, they hate the people who support Biden and vice versa," said Guardian Angels President and Founder Curtis Sliwa. "More importantly, we know that there are thugs who have no political identity who may take advantage of the situation and riot and loot again as they did in June. We stood in their way in NYC, and we prepared to do it again with our Guardian Angel Chapters nationwide."
During those summer protests over Floyd's death under Minneapolis police custody, stores from Manhattan to the Bronx and Queens boarded up their windows after some fiery nights of vandalism and looting. This time, Macy's boarded up its windows on Friday.
"Our windows at Macy's Herald Square were previously scheduled to be dark next week in set-up for our annual holiday displays. Out of an abundance of caution, we are implementing additional security measures at several of our stores," a spokesperson for the company said via email.
Not far from the Macy's flagship store, windows at the T-Mobile store in Times Square were covered with protective plywood by the afternoon. Other luxury shops in Manhattan neighborhoods, as well as the tourist destination Rockefeller Center, have gone the same route. It's not clear how many stores have taken precautions already, but that number is expected to grow even into Election Day.
Shea said the department has been advising some Midtown businesses to remove merchandise and other items like chairs, tables, construction barrels and trash cans from sidewalks in order to allow potential protesters to move unimpeded. The NYPD chief said the department wasn't telling stores to board up, but noted that questions were coming in from concerned retailers.
In October, a police department memo sent to officers called the vote “one of the most highly contested presidential elections in the modern era” and noted that the winner “may not be decided for several weeks.”
The NYPD has been holding tabletop exercises to prepare for potential unrest and shifting hundreds of officers to patrol duties.
“We want to be very careful not to either over-police, because that that could send a signal, or under-police,” said John Miller, the department’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism.
Officials said Tuesday afternoon that intelligence had indicated no potential threats or plans via social media or other means.