All Sunday night, the scene repeated itself as protesters moved through Lower Manhattan. After the main marchers would advance, fringe groups would hang back, and then the shattering glass would begin.
By morning, the devastation in Manhattan was unlike anything New York had seen since the blackout of 1977. Block after block of boutiques in the Flatiron district had their windows shattered and’ their goods looted.
All down Broadway and through the side streets of SoHo, the destruction was widespread and indiscriminate, from chain drugstores to the Chanel boutique, from the Adidas outlet to Dolce & Gabbana.
Looters moved from storefront to storefront, picking through the rubble to fill garbage bags with shoes, clothes, electronics and other goods. The SoHo outpost of Bloomingdale’s was ransacked.
The police said that more than 400 people were arrested in New York overnight on Sunday, mostly for looting and burglary.
“I don’t think this has anything to do with Black Lives Matter,” said a 24-year-old man at the corner of Houston and Broadway, some time after midnight. “It’s just chaos. People are just using this as an excuse to act crazy, do stuff they never dreamed of doing before.”
The man declined to give his name, because he, too, was looting, and because he said he worked during the day as a security guard.
After hours of mostly peaceful protests, the streets of Lower Manhattan grew frenetic around 10 p.m., after police confronted and dispersed a large group that had crossed over the Manhattan Bridge from Brooklyn.
When the march was met by the police near Canal and Church Streets, the crowd grew tense as marchers became separated from one another, kept apart by flanks of riot police. Gradually, protesters splintered into smaller groups, fanning across several blocks and continuing uptown.
But as the march frayed, small bands of violent actors on its fringes began escalating. First, they threw trash cans into the street. Soon, they lit piles of trash on fire, eventually igniting scaffolding on an apartment building near the Strand bookstore. By the time the stragglers had reached the stretch of Fifth Avenue between 14th Street and the Flatiron Building, they were smashing almost any glass in sight.
One small group of young men tore through a CitiBike terminal, yanking bikes from their docks and twisting the plastic. Nearby, the windows of an Anthropologie clothing boutique were smashed. An older protester, visibly distraught, rushed over and begged them to stop. They sprinted onward, shattering windows as they went. One man carried a partly clothed mannequin down the street with him.
Police officers in riot gear sprinted after the group, often just a few stores behind, as peaceful demonstrators yelled, “No protection for looters!” It continued this way uptown for blocks, where protesters dispersed across empty streets brought to life only by ghostly red and blue patrol car lights and the periodic clatter of riot police giving chase.
After midnight, a second protest march from Brooklyn crossed the Manhattan Bridge after having clashed with the police outside the Barclays Center. Once they reached Manhattan, the protesters immediately began smashing windows of stores on the Lower East Side.
Not long after this group arrived in Manhattan, gunshots rang out along Crosby Street in SoHo, and people scrambled for cover. Two men dove into an idling car, which sped off. An ambulance soon arrived and picked up a man, who the police said had been shot. It is unclear whether the incident was connected to the looting or protests.
As the looting continued, police seemed to abandon whatever enforcement they had attempted elsewhere. They sat in their cars as looters, often in full view of police, brazenly walked in and out of stores.
“We’re robbing everybody!” one young man yelled on Houston and Broadway at 2:24 a.m.
It was not only luxury franchises that were targeted: On Lafayette Street, Jason Ackerman, 45, stood in front of his small business, Soho Ink, a tattoo and clothing shop. He said shoplifters stole $1,000 cash, all his clothing merchandise and smashed his display cases.
“I feel anger, disgust; I feel shame for my city that we’ve resorted to destroying,” he said. “New Yorkers, we’re supposed to come together.”
Mr. Ackerman said he considered himself a supporter of the protests, and was troubled that the looting had tried to commandeer its mission.
The destruction waned by 3 a.m., but it brought a new wave of panic: Looters, many of whom had crossed over the bridge from Brooklyn, realized they had no means of transport home. The city’s subways have been shut down overnight because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Ubers were scarce, and cellphones were dying. Looters accosted anyone with a visible cellphone, and begged for rides from random, stopped cars. One woman pleaded with a driver on Houston Street: “Please let me in, please let me ride, I have cash, lots of cash.”
At 5:18 a.m., Joseph Holder, a maintenance worker who sweeps the streets, surveyed the damage and was horrified.
“I’m fearful for my life,” Mr. Holder, 65, said. “Yes, black lives matter, but what example are you setting for the next generation?”
“Let me do what I have to do,” he said, preparing to go work. “Because I don’t want to be on these streets too long.”
Source: NY times