• Scenes From Last Night, Inside The Violent Pro-Palestine Mob

    May 7, 2024
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    All still images: staff photographer.

    "I went down to the demonstration
    To get my fair share of abuse..."

    Last night, a pro-Palestine group of roughly 1,500 marched through the streets of the Upper East Side and Midtown leaving a trail of petty vandalism in their wake. This was no 2020 George Floyd controlled looting affair. These protesters were out to intimidate, not to steal.

    The protesters at Columbia University and City College of New York were composed of a mixed bag racially. Quite a few white faces dotted those crowds. Not so much last night. This angry young lot was by and large Middle Eastern, many with thick accents. Further, they were well organized.

    I first saw the procession near The Mark Hotel at 77th and Madison where they later knocked over police barricades in an apparent attempt to disrupt the Met Gala. The clash of cultures--wild-eyed, ragged protesters, trendy celebrity gawkers, and streetwise paparazzi, while police and news helicopters hovered at 1,000 feet--created an atmosphere of sensory overload. Many of the worst elements of American society simultaneously on display.

    They traveled south, leaving a trail of stickers and spray paint on cars and buildings, on their way to a small plaza on the SE corner of Central Park, home to the golden statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman. I met them there, a group numbering roughly 500.

    The significance of that gathering place is not lost on any student of history. In the sculpture by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Sherman, a leader and hero of the Union, is depicted on his horse, Ontario. He is led by Victory, an allegorical representation of the Greek goddess Nike. So, to the extent that the mob imagined themselves as divinely guided and involved in civil war, there's a rough analogy.

    Sadly, they chose to deface the Sherman monument, as well as Karl Illava's One Hundred Seventh Infantry Memorial, which stands nearby, three blocks north. The latter depicts seven soldiers fighting in WWI.

    And that's what struck me most about this group of protesters: they aren't out to win minds or hearts. They are genuinely angry, and they see their cause as more important than any other. When I began to take pictures of them, they reacted by whistling to attract their enforcers, throwing water, and water bottles, and finally shoving and chest bumping me out of their midst.

    "Go home!" and "Get the f*** out of here, whitey!" and "Leave, n***a!" were exemplars of their exhortations. Things turned more physical when I protested that I don't actively support either side, I was just trying to share their story online. Finally, when I had been bull-rushed to edge of the fray, one protester stayed on me, trying to explain why I should go even further away.

    "Things could go way worse for you. Don't you have a wife or girlfriend to go home to?" I replied that I was doing my job and not breaking any laws, so what was the issue? "We just want to feel safe here," he said. How was my presence making him unsafe? "Because you're white." When I replied that I wasn't Jewish, he said, "You're white, that's enough." Then he started to take video. When I did the same, he said, "That's okay, I've been all over the media lately."

    I moved to the other side of the plaza, looking all the time for police. There weren't any to be seen, though I imagine some plainclothes officers must have been in the midst. That said, three blocks north, several cops stood guard in front of the El-Emanuel synagogue.

    Then a skirmish broke out. A young man in a Cornell t-shirt was yelling in Hebrew at the edge of the plaza, and in turn, he was pelted with water, water bottles, and other debris. One man ran at him, awkwardly throwing punches, then another. Then the enforcers in the group, ten or so of the larger men, pursued the young man as he wisely exited the scene.

    I caught up with him a few blocks later and introduced myself. He requested to remain anonymous, so I'll refer to him henceforth as "Cornell." He described his age as "mid-twenties."

    "I was going for a jog in the park and heard the protest," he said. "What were you yelling?" I asked. He repeated it in Hebrew, then English. "Israel will survive," he said. The second attacker's punch had knocked his AirPods out of his ears, and as the video shows, protesters scurried to retrieve (and keep) them.

    Cornell continued, "The police are clearly not protecting any counter-protest...one person came up and punched me in the face. I did not engage further because Jewish people, we do not believe in violence."

    The "Palestang." And of course it's from Jersey.

    I parted ways with Cornell and two other reporters who had caught up with us and walked toward the subway. A man and his girlfriend approached me. "Excuse me," he said in a South American accent. "Can I ask you about the protest? Why don't they stop it?" He introduced himself as Roman Canoniero, visiting from Buenos Aires. "I bet you'll be glad to get back home," I joked. He explained that this was his 10th visit to New York, but his girlfriend's first.

    "Why do you let them take over your country? They don't share American values," he said. I explained how free speech was tricky, but the mayor and governor don't have the political will to push back against violent protest. "Ah," he said with a knowing smile. "The Democrats."

    Sometimes it takes an outsider to concisely express what's wrong with your city.

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