Letter to the editor: I was trapped by NYPD on the Manhattan Bridge

Protesters marched across the Manhattan Bridge during a night of demonstrations against police brutality.
Leigh Conner

During the ongoing protests across the city Tuesday night, a group of about 2,000 demonstrators were stopped by police on the Manhattan Bridge, and sequestered on the span for more than an hour after curfew. One Brooklyn Paper reader, Leigh Conner, shared her experience in a letter to the editor on Wednesday. Her words have been lightly edited for clarity.

Hey Brooklyn Paper,

I am a regular reader and thought I’d share my experience from being trapped on the Manhattan Bridge last night. I’ve spent the day laying in bed, fully emotionally and physically exhausted and since I didn’t have the energy to get back out there today, I figured the least I could do is get out the word about how things went down.

The 100 percent peaceful march started on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, went through Downtown, and landed back around to the Barclays Center. After doing a moment of silence and taking a knee, it was 8 pm and the curfew had begun. Those of us who decided to break curfew began marching down Flatbush Avenue towards the Manhattan Bridge while the rest went home.

Upon reaching the Manhattan Bridge entrance, we were met by maybe a couple hundred police officers. They physically blocked us from entering the bridge, so everyone stopped. At this point, all white allies moved to the front of the line and a couple of black leaders of the protest negotiated with police. They would not let us pass, so we went around and found another entrance onto the bridge.

We marched across on a Brooklyn-bound lane and, after about 20 minutes, we reached the Manhattan side. We were greeted with barricades and a massive police presence — about triple the number on the Brooklyn side.

The group of protesters stood and chanted “let us through,” among other things. No one was pushing on barricades and everyone remained peaceful. At this point, it was 9:45 pm and we’d been waiting to march into Manhattan for around 45 minutes. I’m a public school teacher and had to get back home to rest up for the next day, so I decided to leave the group and walk with a few others back to Brooklyn.

I was about three minutes from reaching the Brooklyn off-ramp when a small group in front of us walked towards us and said to turn around and that the police would not be letting us through. They said if we attempted, we would be arrested and that we would need to walk back and get on the pedestrian walkway to get back into Brooklyn.

We walked over a mile back to the Manhattan off-ramp, but the police were blocking the entrance to the pedestrian walkway. (At this point the crowd was still standing at the barricades waiting to get into Manhattan). Me and about 15 other protesters took turns helping each other down from the street to the pedestrian walkway, which was around 10 feet below. I was then able to walk over a mile back into Brooklyn and made it home.

The remainder of the group were finally allowed off on the Brooklyn side at 11 pm. By the time this was all over, we’d been marching for six hours. People were hungry, thirsty, tired, and had to use the bathroom. This is in the midst of a pandemic. Being trapped on a bridge by the NYPD during a pandemic for no reason other than to seemingly punish protesters for breaking an arbitrary curfew is reckless and not the way a city should treat its citizens who are peacefully marching to ask that black lives not be taken for no reason.

I think back to the civil rights march across the Pettus Bridge and how that scene is a moment in history Americans look back on as how peaceful protest worked to achieve rights for those who didn’t have them. Somehow, New Yorkers in the 21st century doing the same thing are terrorists who deserve punishment for breaking laws.

It’s almost as though no peaceful protest could ever be peaceful enough.