As Brooklynites join demonstrators across the country to decry racism and police brutality, two peaceful protests in Bay Ridge drew more than 100 people on Sunday and Monday nights — less than 24 hours after rumors circulated about riots in the same spot.
On Sunday, a group of about 50 teens and young adults descended on the corner of 86th Street and Fifth Avenue after a flyer circulated on social media advertising the demonstration in protest of the killing of 46-year-old George Floyd.
Neighborhood group Bay Ridge Cares, the organization said to be behind the protest, denied their involvement in a Twitter post, and area Councilman Justin Brannan said the protest was staged by agitators aiming to stroke anger, clash with police, and riot.
“These sociopaths have only one goal and that is [to] weaponize the idea of a peaceful protest to sow fear and chaos,” the Bay Ridge councilman tweeted, alleging the event was being staged by “astroturf” agitators.
Not everyone heeded the councilman’s warnings. One hour after Sunday’s protest was set to commence, dozens of young people gathered at the advertised starting point to commence their own peaceful march.
“People were saying it was a hoax,” said 31-year-old Bay Ridge resident Aron Young, who participated in the commandeered demonstration. “Around nine o’clock is when we started hearing people chant — and it was all young people from the ages of about 12 to mid-20s.”
Young said Sunday night’s spur-of-the-moment protest was disorganized at first — until a 12-year-old girl, accompanied by her mother, stepped up to take charge. The girl led the march of about 50 people from 86th Street to 75th Street, Young said.
Brannan took to social media to share the heartwarming story of the nonviolent group’s efforts to overwhelm the apparent effort to stir up conflict.
“Some astroturf agitators spent the day trying to scare folks with explicit promises of looting & violence once the sun went down,” he tweeted. “Their plan was thwarted by 30-40 fired up young folks who protested peacefully as neighbors cheered in support!”
Protesters kept the momentum going on Monday, when more than 100 locals again gathered at 6 pm in the same spot to stand in peaceful solidarity with demonstrators across the country.
“On Monday, over a hundred people showed up,” Young said. “It was really nice to see how many people showed up and how many people were chanting from their windows.”
Marchers took to both of the neighborhood’s commercial strips, chanting phrases like “Black lives matter” and “Hands up, don’t shoot” — calls that, Young said, were often echoed by residents watching from their apartment windows.
“There was one guy on 75th Street between Fifth and Fourth, and he was chanting everyone’s name,” Young said. “Not only did he say George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — but he said Sandra Bland’s name, he said Sean Bell, he said Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin.”
Lifelong Bay Ridge resident Shannon Legg said the protest — though much smaller than other demonstrations across the borough — was unlike anything she’s ever seen in her hometown.
“It was really emotional seeing the overwhelming turn out for the demonstration. From people marching, to people driving by, to people coming out of their homes to support. I’ve been in the neighborhood my entire life and I have never seen anything like it before,” she said. “With all of the unrest and destruction we are seeing on TV about what is happening with protests in other locations it is really important to show our neighbors that that is not always the case. There was no violence. No clashes with police. The group even stopped for an ambulance to pass willingly. We got our point across while remaining peaceful.”
Police officers were supportive of the movement both evenings, Young said, and members of the 68th Precinct gave demonstrators space to protest while safely containing the march to the sidewalk.
“They weren’t against us,” Young said. “They wanted us to exercise our protests as long as we did it in a civil matter.”
To further show their support, some officers even marched alongside protesters on the first night, Young said.
“That in itself says a lot,” he told Brooklyn Paper.