The weekend of unrest began Saturday with a “Rally to Back the Blue” in Dyker Heights, where more than 300 mostly white demonstrators marched up 13th Avenue from Bay Ridge Parkway to 86th Street. They chanted pro-police slogans and waved “Thin Blue Line” American flags in support of law enforcement.
At the start of the march, a group of about a dozen counter-protesters met at the corner of 13th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. While many marchers ignored counter-protesters, one eyewitness said, a large group of pro-police attendees hung back and cursed at them, called them names, and mocked them for wearing face masks. That account has been verified by more than one viral video.
One enraged pro-cop protester didn’t hesitate to spew racist and sexually explicit language at one Black Lives Matter supporter.
“I’ll spit on you, you piece of sh—,” the pro-cop protester said in a clip posted on Twitter, who allegedly did spit on counter-protesters, according to a witness. “You suck Black d—.”
The same pro-police protester kneed another Black Lives Matter in the groin completely unprovoked, the victim said.
“I basically couldn’t see straight. Our medic who was on scene said I turned incredibly pale and said I needed to go to the hospital,” said Noah Weston, a Bay Ridge resident who helped organize the counter-protest. “As ludicrous as it seems, I ended up having to go to the hospital where they told me I had sustained a testicular contusion.”
Another Black Lives Matter protester said several pro-police attendees repeatedly told her and other female counter-protesters to “get raped.”
“There was a lot of men who just kept screaming at us, ‘Go get raped! Go get raped and see who you’re going to call then!'” said Vanessa Cavanagh. “People were following us saying, ‘We’re going to find out where you live, we’re going to f—k you up.”
Eventually, many of the “Back the Blue” demonstrators abandoned the counter-protesters, but a handful kept close by to them.
At the back of the march, a pro-cop protester smashed a journalist’s camera on the ground and hit her with it, a video shows.
“One of the blue lives matter protesters shoved me hard into a tree and another grabbed my camera, hit me with it and shattered it on the ground,” the journalist tweeted. “How is that a way to prove their point?”
I am very grateful to the neighbor Zena P. who filmed it. pic.twitter.com/szfE9z3tvk
— @SCOOTERCASTER (FNTV) (@ScooterCasterNY) July 11, 2020
Many counter-protesters had already scattered before the march reached the park at the end of the rally route, Cavanagh said.
There, local politicians addressed the crowd — many of whom took issue with recent cuts to the NYPD budget amid a spike in citywide crime.
“We are seeing burglaries, robberies, murder, all categories that have sky rocketed,” said Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, a congressional candidate for the 11th District who will face off against Democratic incumbent Max Rose in November. “The policies being put in place by my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are the cause of this. The anti-police rhetoric is the cause of this.”
Vito Bruno, a Republican running for State Senator Andrew Gounardes’ seat, also attended the pro-police rally — as did Gounardes’ predecessor Marty Golden.
One of the rally’s organizers called the violent and racist actions of some “Back the Blue” attendees “disgusting,” but maintained that the Black Lives Matter counter-protesters instigated the conflict by attending the march.
“It seemed very antagonistic,” said Mario Caggiano, adding that some of the counter-protesters’ choice to wear goggles and helmets felt like an escalation of what was planned to be a peaceful march. “I personally feel they were just being childish and they were being provoked.”
A Black Lives Matter protester told Gothamist that the choice to begin at 11 am on July 11 and march 11 blocks appears to reference the Ku Klux Klan, whose supporters often use the number “11” and “33,” since “K” is the 11th letter in the alphabet.
Caggiano scoffed at the claim, and said that he helped organize the rally simply to raise morale among police officers.
“It was supposed to be non-political. We weren’t trying to go against Black Lives Matter, we weren’t trying to go against any other organization,” claimed Caggiano, an avowed Democrat and Dyker Heights resident who assembled the event with Brooklyn Conservative Party chairwoman Fran Vella-Marrone and other local leaders. Some marchers also boasted banners promoting President Donald Trump.
“I was warned that a narrative was going to be spun that this was conservative, that it was white supremacy,” he said. “And they were right.”
Yet things got worse on Sunday.
The conflict continued to escalate on July 12 after a few hundred Black Lives Matter protesters marched through Bay Ridge to counter a second pro-police rally that planned to make its way towards the 68th precinct.
The two groups converged most forcefully by Fourth Avenue and 65th Street a little after 6 pm — where several pro-police demonstrators punched counter-protesters, said Weston, who also attended the Sunday rally.
One pro-cop protester punched a man in the head and another nearly knocked out a young woman who was marching with the counter-protesters, which was captured on a video posted on Twitter, Weston said.
He assaulted me too in this video, while NYPD police officers protected him pic.twitter.com/dRB4LZLlTO
— breeze so lo (@BreezeCrypto) July 13, 2020
Black Lives Matter supporters were also seen instigating violence, burning American flags, lighting trashcans on fire, and throwing eggs towards cops and pro-police protesters, witnesses said.
After several pro-police demonstrators had left, police played an automated message instructing counter-protesters to disperse, according to Weston.
“They started issuing an automated message that we were unlawfully gathering and they had to disperse, and they started chasing people,” he said.
Shortly after, a police officer Tased and arrested Robert Bolden, a 41-year-old Black Lives Matter protester, after he allegedly threw a hard hat at authorities and NYPD supporters. Bolden’s violent arrest, which left him with multiple arm fractures, was captured in a now-viral video.
Another attendee alleged that local cops did little to deescalate throughout the course of the demonstrations.
— @SCOOTERCASTER (FNTV) (@ScooterCasterNY) July 12, 2020
Black Lives Matter protesters said that Sunday’s clash might have resulted in more violence, but that the pro-police crowd appeared more subdued than the rally had the day before — perhaps because they were nearly outnumbered.
“On Saturday, you had a lot more people who were screaming at us,” Weston said. “But on Sunday, I saw a lot of people just standing quietly looking at us.”
Police arrested two people at the Sunday protests, according to a police spokesperson.
Local Democrats, including State Senator Gounardes, Assemblywoman Mathylde Frontus, and Councilman Justin Brannan, decried the racism and violence on display over the weekend, but did not attend either event.
“What we saw and read was deeply disturbing,” Brannan and Gounardes wrote in a joint statement Sunday night about the events earlier that evening. “As we have done consistently when violence has erupted at protests across the city, we forcefully condemn this unacceptable behavior. All of it. We support everyone’s right to demonstrate for what they believe in, but will not stand for instigating violence.”
The pair — who likened much of Saturday’s pro-police march to a Trump rally — also called for a full investigation into Sunday’s violent arrest caught on video, which Mayor Bill de Blasio said Monday his office was also looking into.
Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane, Meaghan McGoldrick, Lloyd Mitchell, and Caroline Ourso.
Correction: A previous version of this article said approximately 300 people attended the “Rally to Back the Blue” in Dyker Heights on Saturday, but it appears the number grew considerably over the course of the march. We’ve updated it to read “more than 300.”
Update: This article has been updated to include additional information about one of the two arrests made at the July 12 demonstration.