On the evening of Saturday, May 30th, The Village became the stage for what appeared to be a well-orchestrated demonstration against police for the Minneapolis killing of George Floyd, ending with the skilled firebombing of several police vehicles. Covered by WestView News photographer Chris Manis, he was struck by what appeared to be a core group that issued instructions both moving and haranguing the crowds. Manis followed the action to University Place, where he captured the photos for this article. His eyewitness account follows.
By Chris Manis
I arrived at Union Square around 10 p.m. to a line of approximately 200-300 riot police spanning from University Place to Broadway. Behind them, in the park, a large crowd of 400-500 had assembled. All seemed very peaceful and calm. Most people (including the police) were on their cell phones and looked quite bored. I then noticed, and apparently the police did not, that the crowd started quietly but quickly streaming out of the park in different directions—almost as if on cue. One group went down Broadway, another down University Place, and others headed toward Fifth Avenue.
I know the streets well and I know how to follow a story, so I walked down University Place to see what was going on. As I arrived at 13th Street, several large, loud, firecracker-type explosions occurred simultaneously. I heard breaking glass and more explosions, and spotted several police vans engulfed in flames. As they burned, protestors spray-painted them with slogans. Riot police came running down the street, causing panic in the crowd. But there was nowhere to run. In every direction, police vans and cars erupted into flames, with so much smoke billowing out of them that it actually became hard to see and breathe.
This attack appeared to be highly organized, with car fires erupting simultaneously in every direction. It was also clear that the persons who started the fires were long gone before the riot police arrived at the scene.
I must give credit to the police, who were surprisingly restrained in their response as they formed a line and pushed the crowd away from the burning cars so that the fire department could get through and extinguish the blazes. Although several bank and store windows were smashed, the vast majority of damage was clearly aimed at police property. Also, as the police vans were burning, there were several loud explosions that came from inside the vehicles.
It’s my observation that the police were caught absolutely by surprise, and it took them quite a while to organize a response. It appeared that the police were up against a highly organized and capable group who knew how to incite mayhem.