Police in New York City have scuffled with protesters and used pepper spray at a gay rights march organized to call for an end to police brutality – despite the official parade being canceled due to coronavirus.
The Queer Liberation March, taking place for the second year running, drew thousands to the cause after the traditional parade was called off in April.
The peaceful protest descended into chaos when police charged at activists gathered in Washington Square in Manhattan.
As two were being arrested for graffiti, protesters intervened in an attempt to free them, at which point police responded with pepper spray, multiple witnesses told Gothamist.
Police confronted protesters in Washington Square in New York City on Sunday at the end of a pride parade
The Queer Liberation March had begun peacefully but descended into scuffles once police began making arrests
At least two officers were caught in pepper spray that was loosed on the crowd on Sunday
The officers doused their faces with water to get the pepper spray out of their eyes, assisted by their colleagues
A legal observer said at least four people were arrested and 10 others pepper sprayed – including someone running a fruit stand nearby protesters.
‘We were dancing right in front of the arch on Fifth Avenue and out of nowhere, cops started storming into the crowd,’ said Mike Perles, a 29-year-old city employee.
He told the site: ‘They pushed everyone in front of them out of the way and onto the ground. They pushed a reporter who was taking photos down and started randomly pepper spraying people.
‘I couldn’t see anyone instigating.
‘It seemed like they felt out numbered after entering a huge group and panicked and started beating people up.’
Pippa Bianco, a volunteer with NourishNYC, told Gothamist she was shoved and held down by officers while seeing three others get pepper sprayed.
‘I was totally peaceful, we all were – I was picking up food for a volunteer food station when the cops rushed into the crowd in a panic and started the violence.’
Bianco helped four others get water and medical attention after they were pepper sprayed.
She also saw a police medic pouring water into the eyes of two other cops after they accidentally got the pepper spray in their eyes.
‘The man who was arrested was crying and saying he was hurting and the cops were dragging him by his hands so his weight was against his shoulders pulling [on] the sockets,’ said Bianco.
The Queer Liberation March, which took place for the first time in 2019, was canceled due to coronavirus but then restarted
Organizers said that the killing of George Floyd on May 25 spurred them to rethink their plan to call the march off this year
Thousands took to the streets on Sunday marching both to end police brutality and to protect gay rights
The march began around 1pm in Lower Manhattan then wound its way up towards Washington Square
Protesters marched past the Stonewall Inn, site of the 1969 riots, on Sunday in New York City
Mark Apolloa, live-streaming on Facebook, narrated: ‘The NYPD is going ballistic.’
At the end of the 30 minute broadcast, he concluded: ‘I don’t know what kicked it off. But the situation was at a point where this was almost Stonewall Two.’
The Stonewall riots in 1969 saw the birth of the Pride movement.
Last year five million people joined in the festivities in New York marking the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, and uniting everyone for the annual World Pride event.
‘There was an excessive amount of police once the march got here,’ Apolloa said.
‘If it wasn’t for that things wouldn’t have escalated to the point they did.’
The protest began around 1pm, and was promoted as an alternative to the traditional Pride parade.
Organizers said the Queer Liberation March was less corporate and focused on defunding NYPD, in addition to defending gay rights.
Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York, is under pressure to shave as much as $1 billion from the City’s $6 billion policing budget.
Thousands of people joined in the demonstration, which was an alternative to the traditional Pride Parade
Protesters, activists and their supporters took to the streets of Manhattan on Sunday in a show of force
The demonstrators were calling for an end to police brutality, the defunding of the NYPD, and respect for gay rights
Jay Walker, one of the organizers, said: ‘We’re just standing here arm-and-arm with black folks, black trans folks, with brown folks, everybody that is under the boot of the police – not just NYPD – all over this country.’
‘One of our mottoes was ‘We’re here for queer liberation, not rainbow capitalism,” said one of the organizers, Natalie James, at a recent event.
‘A lot of longtime activists had just stopped going to Pride,’ said another organizer, Jay W. Walker.
‘They were kind of sickened by it.’
He brought up the concept of ‘pinkwashing’, in which ‘corporate bad actors’ make token gestures but fail to address root causes of discrimination.
‘A big part of our issue with the corporations is they’re not consistent in their support for us throughout the year,’ said Francesca Barjon, the group’s social-media organizer.
‘It’s about being able to profit off of us in June.’
Walker said they intended to call the protest off due to COVID-19 concerns, but reversed their decision following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
‘Stonewall was a riot, we’re not rioting,’ he told amNewYork Metro, ahead of Sunday’s event.
The Stonewall Inn riots of 1969 sparked a worldwide movement to demand respect for gay rights
‘We’re just standing here arm-and-arm with black folks, black trans folks, with brown folks, everybody that is under the boot of the police – not just NYPD – all over this country.
‘We had every intention of doing this again this year until Ms. ‘Rona showed up, so we canceled and went virtual.
‘Then when we all saw Mr Floyd being murdered before our eyes, we started getting out in the streets.’
The Queer Liberation March had its roots in the 2017 Pride March, which featured the debut of the Resistance Contingent – a consortium of activist groups that formed in response to the Trump Administration.
It included groups such as Gays Against Guns, which staged a die-in, and Hoods4Justice, which formed a blockade to prevent the NYPD marching band from joining the parade, with banners reading ‘There are no queer friendly cops’ and ‘Decolonize pride.’
Streets across Manhattan were crowded with people celebrating Pride and calling for change in policing tactics
A woman on Sunday shows her support for the cause in a colorful hat and Frida Kahlo mask
Revelers urged their fellow protesters to register to vote and have their say in the future of the country
New York was not the only city to host alternative Pride parades.
In Chicago, where the official parade was canceled due to COVID, a group of LGBTQ activists and community members marched through the North Side to ‘reclaim Pride’ from corporate sponsors.
Organizers said the Sunday march and rally is about reclaiming the grassroots efforts that launched the LGBTQ movement.
Hundreds of people gathered near the CTA Belmont station in the Lakeview neighborhood at noon, and marchers made their way along the two-mile route north to Uptown.
In Minneapolis, nearly 1,000 people took to the streets to demand respect for gay rights and justice for George Floyd.
The peaceful protesters were demanding justice for Floyd, community control of police and defense of black trans people.
DJ Hooker, who organized the rally, said it was more relevant than ever.
‘We are calling this the “Pride take back,”‘ he told Kare 11. ‘We are taking back pride.
‘It is really sad times. It has been a month since George Floyd’s death and that still impacts a lot of people.’
People dance in front of the Minneapolis First Precinct during a Pride march held on Sunday
Demonstrators in Chicago called for respect for gay rights and black trans lives during Sunday’s peaceful protest
Thousands gathered in the streets for the Pride Without Prejudice march in Chicago, held on Sunday
The march in Chicago drew a large crowd but was smaller than the traditional parade, with COVID keeping people at home