By Bob Cooley
What started as a reaction to the murder of George Floyd, an African American man killed by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, quickly became the tipping point for residents, students, and activists of all ages and races who were protesting the long history of systemic inequality and police brutality against African Americans, other people of color, and many marginalized groups. The protests started in Minnesota and spread to numerous cities across the nation and abroad, including many originating in and moving through the West Village.
The West Village community has always been a leader in movements for social change, and many of our residents participated in the larger protests while others organized vigils and gave speeches at smaller venues like the Stonewall National Monument.
For several weeks crowds of up to 5,000 people gathered in Washington Square Park and other parts of Manhattan and the outer boroughs where the NYPD reported groups of up to 10,000 protesters. One student in the park said of the protests, “I think this is the first time I’ve seen everyone come together, all races, all nations around the entire world, come together to fight for us, for our people.”
Protests in the West Village were mostly peaceful, with some minor incidents of vandalism and civil unrest. In other parts of the city, however, vandalism and looting occurred, instigated primarily by criminal elements and opportunists who used the protests as an excuse for the destruction of store windows and some police vehicles; other groups looted stores in Soho and Midtown where there was little police presence due to the large gatherings of protesters in other parts of the city.
During the first few days there were also minor clashes between protesters and the NYPD, with graffiti and minor property damage in the Village from protesters who were outraged by the unlawful killing of Floyd and numerous African Americans in prior months. Many restaurants and stores in the Village proactively boarded up their windows to protect their businesses; but after an 8:00 pm curfew was put into effect, looting and property damage stopped almost completely.
Mayor de Blasio lifted the curfew early, and the protests have continued peacefully in the Village and city as government officials have already enacted some minor police reforms along with promising to continue working with the community to find ways to establish trust between police officers and residents, including plans to redistribute some budget and community responsibilities away from the NYPD and into other more appropriate departments—a plan commonly referred to as “defunding the police.”