Tensions Between Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter Supporters Escalate in Bay Ridge
Protests Between the Two Sides Fell into Chaos and Violence Sunday
When Bay Ridge activist Genna Goldsobel arrived to help with the Black Lves Matter counter-protest towards Back the Blue rally in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn on Saturday, July 11th, she didn’t have many expectations of what would occur. The event was marketed as a rally to thank the NYPD, and Goldsobel expected a lot of folks there with American flags and Blue Lives Matter signs.
Hundreds has turned up for the rally, including about 300 who had arrived from Staten Island. In attendance was Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, who is running for Congress. Former State Senator Marty Golden was also present, as well as Mark Szuszkiewicz, who is running on the Republican ticket for State Assembly against Mathylde Frontus.
For Goldsobel’s group, which was organized by a series of activist groups, such as Fight Back Bay Ridge, Yalla Brooklyn, and the South Brooklyn Democratic Socialists of America, it was much smaller. No Democrat or any left-wing politician was present. They went in not sure how things would turn out.
But as soon as she and other counter-protesters arrived, everything got very scary for them
“When we got there,” she explains. “All of the attention that they had ‘planned on’ that they were going to give the NYPD by thanking them, would then just turn to us and the best way to terrorize each of us individually, seems like the intention of the event was never about the cops.”
According to Goldsobel, the second she and the others got to the location at Bay Ridge Parkway and 13th Avenue, before they even started chanting or hold up any signs, the Back the Blue supporters began spitting at them. One of them threw their hat at the counter-protesters. A few men started screaming at the women that they hoped they would get raped, and even that their mothers would get raped. One of those men even told the women they should “get raped by a big black c*ck.”
“I think it says a lot of people’s insecurities,” Goldsobel says. “Because the only type of insults that they would throw was sexualized. Things like that were so specific that it really makes you question who these people are, why they hold the beliefs that they do, and if there’s something beneath the surface that they want to examine.”
Goldsobel and her fellow protesters knew approaching the Back the Blue rally would be risky. What they didn’t expect was how they would be “swarmed” and how the cops seemed to be more focused on protecting the pro-cop supporters rather than both sides. To her, it was an eye-opener, and it certainly prepared for the next protests the very next day in Bay Ridge.
That Sunday, at 5:30pm, both the Back the Blue and the Black Lives Matter protesters gathered at separate locations — Back the Blue met at Bay Ridge Parkway and 4th Avenue, while the latter met at 86th and 4th, the same location where the peaceful protests supported by many in the neighborhood took place a month ago. Back the Blue intended to march to the 68th Precinct to thank the police there, while the other group intended to follow and meet up with them.
On Bay Ridge Parkway and 4th Avenue, many came with American flags, signs that spelled out their support for the NYPD or even President Trump. A group of four women, one of them from Bensonhurst, appeared excited to be there.
“We’re here to support the police. That’s it in a nutshell,” one of the women said. “We’re Brooklynites. We’re not hipsters, we’re not transplants.”
Another, who also declined to give her name, said, “These are hardworking people who may be someone’s mother or father. They keep us safe.”
When asked about Saturday’s protests, one of the women, named Dyan, said, “They’re demonizing our heroes. They also say they’re anti-cop but they were asking for protections. A bunch of hypocrites!”
At one point, a man and his wife walked by. Based on the woman’s attire, the couple were Muslims and the husband spoke with an accent. As they walked pass the four women, the women asked if they would join them. At first, the man didn’t know what the rally was for, but upon being told, he said he would come back because, as he explained, the police are “good people”.
As the Back the Blue supporters waited for their march to begin, there seemed to be anticipation in the air. It was as if the memory of the previous day was clear in their minds, and many were ready to face whatever was going to happen. As they did, they discussed amongst each other their thoughts on the beliefs of the Black Lives Matter movement. One man said young people have no idea what damage communism will do. Another said that if they tore down the statue of Benjamin Franklin, then what about the $50 bills in their pockets?
At about 6pm, with about 250 people present, Marty Golden arrived to lead the crowd. With him was Marko Kepi, the Republican candidate for the 64th Assembly District. Through a megaphone, Golden told the crowd how they were going to march up Fourth Avenue to the 68th Precinct. He also insisted that no one engage with the counter-protesters.
As he spoke, the supporters waved their flags — creating a sea of American, NYPD and Trump 2020 flags in the air — and cheered for the NYPD. But as they started to march, a few blocks away, the Black Lives Matter crowd was approaching. It was clear that there were many more Sunday than there were on Saturday.
Most of the Back the Blue protesters began marching away, but a few stayed behind, ready to confront the Black Lives Matter protesters. Police barriers were set across from one corner of 4th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway to the other, and they were arranged to keep both sides several feet apart from each other. Several cops stood in front of the barriers facing the approaching group, their backs towards the pro-cop side.
The Black Lives Matter protesters were told to turn from Fourth Avenue, down Bay Ridge Parkway, and up Fifth Avenue. But that didn’t stop dozens of them from racing up to the barriers and the pro-cop supporters stand on their side, and face each other. Both sides created an onslaught of verbal abuse, swearing, obscene gestures and words, and overall intense anger at each other. It was like a battlefield, only that of words.
The cops eventually directed the Black Lives Matter crowd away from the barriers and the pro-cop group eventually brushed off the counter-protests and began heading up Fourth Avenue. As they did, they passed a trio of Black Lives Matter protesters who were unable to find their group, but came across the Back the Blue rally instead. With their bikes, they stood with their fists raised and chanted, “Black Lives Matter.” In response, the pro-cop supporters who were walking said, “All Lives Matter.” Some even told those three to get a job or that they sounded like third-graders.
Meanwhile on Fifth Avenue, the counter-protesters marched and chanted their way to the 68th Precinct. As they did, some neighborhood residents clapped for them or said thank you. Others spat or told them to go home. That made Goldsobel chuckle.
“I thought, cool. I am home,” she says.
More people had joined Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest after seeing how they were treated on Saturday. Some expressed dismay that such behavior had happened in Brooklyn. Some cyclists came to use their bikes as barriers for their fellow protesters. Legal observers showed up to keep an eye on what could happen.
Upon arriving at Fourth Avenue and 65th Street, just past Leif Ericsson Park, the Black Lives Matter protesters took their place on one side while the Back the Blue crowd stood on the other. The latter was mainly white and middle-aged, while the counter-protesters were mainly younger and multiracial. Tension was high, higher than at Bay Ridge Parkway. Anger was mounting too, as one woman supporting the cops told another woman that the counter-protesters were “pieces of garbage”.
No speeches or calls were made by either side with a megaphone. Nothing was said or done to calm both sides. Instead, the two groups yelled and screamed obscenities, vulgar and swear words, and hateful comments to one another. A line of police officers sort of separated the two, with their backs towards the Back the Blue side.
For a moment, it seemed no one wanted any violence to erupt, although more some on the Black Lives Matter side reported more spitting and even a shoe being thrown at them. Yelling and arguing went on for several minutes, until pepper spray was unleashed at the Black Lives Matter crowd.
Two men and a woman were sprayed in the eyes, from the protesters on the Back the Blue side, not the cops. One man was wearing glasses which protected him, but the other two needed
water to clean out their eyes. The woman wailed in pain on the sidewalk while others around her aided by telling her the pain will pass.
The man with the glasses wondered why the police did nothing about the pepper spraying. “They said they’re for law and order,” he says wryly.
After that, any hope of civility was gone, and the hate and anger on both sides escalated.
One woman on the Back the Blue side accused of a man of hitting her. The Black Lives Matter side got a hold of an American flag and burned it. Another smaller one was also burnt and held high to the sound of loud cheers.
That led to one of the Black Lives Matter organizers to use a megaphone to stop anymore physical confrontation, but many on his side were not willing to listen. This was especially so when a man on the Back the Blue side shoved a young woman to the ground. She was unharmed and gave the man a tongue-lashing as soon as she got up.
The intensity continued. Another Black Lives Matter organizer yelled through a megaphone about why the cops were facing them and not the pro-cop side. As this was happening, cops with riot helmets appeared and lined up facing the counter-protesters. One Black Lives Matter supporter was overheard saying he came there to punch. A young woman told others she was there for her ancestors.
Around the same time, several counter-protesters and cops broke out of the large, congested crowd and began running towards Leif Ericsson Park. While many did not know what was going on, it was later found out that one of the Black Lives Matter protesters threw a white helmet into the opposite crowd, hitting a woman. He then ran off, was tased by cops, and arrested.
By this time, both sides had been involved in Sunday’s event for about three hours. Most of the Back the Blue began to leave, and slowly, so did the Black Lives Matter protesters. But many stayed behind.
However, there were still acts of violence going on, including one when a pro-cop man threw a punch in the middle of an argument with some young men from the other side. Another fist fight broke out, and a woman was punched by a man, leaving her dizzy.
Fights continued well into the night. At one point, fires were set to a corner garbage can. A woman was arrested and when placed in a police van, fellow protesters shook the van.
But one touching moment came when a woman from the Black Lives Matter side offered an olive branch with a hug towards a man from the pro-cop side. Supposedly, she’s an army veteran and he’s a marine veteran, and had water thrown at him.
But even so, a lot had happened this past weekend, and Sunday showed what many believe is only the beginning of the ongoing conflict between the Back the Blue and Black Lives Matter movements.
One 19 year-old who wouldn’t give his name said he came to Bay Ridge Sunday after what he saw on Saturday to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
“As a Black man,” he said. “I have to protect myself and my family. They’re the aggressors. They fight us and terrorize us. We have to fight back.”
Another Brooklynite who came to support the Black Lives Matter protesters was Whitney Hu, who is running for City Council next year. She explained she came to show solidarity.
“Racists are no longer welcome in South Brooklyn,” she said. “I’m glad to see so many people come out. But its really frustrating to see which side the NYPD is on.”
In regards of the egg being thrown at the police, Hu explains, “The NYPD is a well-paid militia. They have batons, and they get hit with an egg? Nah!”
Even Genna Goldsobel felt the egg throwing was trivial. “Nobody is hurt by a egg. It’s trivial in a sea of murder.” She also added that burning the American flag is both constitutional and not a crime.
The protests on both Saturday and Sunday were largely different from those that took place in early June, which no violence occurred. Goldsobel believes it is because of the recent passing of the city budget that has sparked something on the Black Lives Matter movement, because the City Council did not defund the NYPD by at least $1 billion.
“We were slowly getting there,” she explained. “It was a disgusting, not transparent process, where you had councilmembers, such as ours in Bay Ridge [Councilman Justin Brannan] who originally said they were not going to vote yes on the budget, that would include the $1 billion slash to the budget, and then voted yes on it. You finally feel like you’re getting somewhere, to be let down by those same people in power.”
She adds that residents in communities, such as Bay Ridge and Dyker Heights, but also Mill Basin, Far Rockaway, Gerritsen Beach, are not used to people coming in and disagree them. Telling them that Black Lives Matter, Goldsobel believes, gets their security “shaken”.
“Their autonomy is chipping away, and they see that as a threat,” Goldsobel said.
She also believes what happened Sunday is just the start, and more protests from both sides are bound to happen.
When reached for comments via email, both Marty Golden and Marko Kepi did not respond. The Brooklyn Republican and Conservative Parties released a joint statement on Tuesday about the two protests.
“Debate is always healthy and, without question, there is a universal desire for improvement in all community relations,” the statement reads. “Sadly, voices supporting police — and in opposition to what some consider attacks on common sense public safety policies — are wrongfully being labeled hateful and regressive by those who simply do not agree.”
The statement also addressed the verbal abuse from Saturday towards the Black Lives Matter group. “[W]e denounce — plainly and strongly — any hateful language that came from the few (who had no connection to the event organizers) who had responded to the counter protesters. It was unacceptable and we categorically denounce anything like that.”
Both parties also criticized “our local elected officials” for using spin towards both events with “political rancor”. They also denounced any one-sided viewpoints towards this issue. “ Let’s improve on that and share ideas — not demonize, agree to disagree — not disparage, allow assembly and freedom of thought — not trying to quiet those around with whom you may disagree. We can agree to disagree on issues, absolutely, but to disparage so many who give endlessly and tirelessly for their communities and all people of all backgrounds is wholly unacceptable.”
When reached for a comment via email to discuss the statement further, the Brooklyn Conservative Party could not be reached.
Many from the Back the Blue side declined to be interviewed on Sunday. However, a resident of Queens, who called himself John, attended to not only support the diversity in the NYPD — his brother is a cop and they are both of Arab background — but also to engage with both sides, like a peacemaker.
“Both sides use emotions instead of dialogue,” John said. “I’m disappointing in the egg throwing and I disagree with the girl being pushed. People really get emotional when they can’t get the point.”