Several people were pepper-sprayed and one was arrested Sunday, July 12 after a Black Lives Matter march and a Back the Blue event simultaneously occurring in Crocheron Park in Bayside came to a head.
The 111th Precinct stood as a barrier between the easily distinguishable groups — one wearing all black with the other in blue NYPD T-shirts and red MAGA hats —as slurs and insults were passed back and forth, but chaos erupted after the aggression turned physical. It was not clear who initiated the altercation, though both groups blamed the other, but it resulted in the arrest of teenaged Yacin Diallo of Warriors in the Garden, an activist group rallying for Black Lives Matter. An officer grabbed Diallo, pushed him up against a parked car and handcuffed him as another officer pepper-sprayed the rushing crowd, accidentally spraying himself in the process. The Back the Blue crowd cheered as the officers carried Diallo away, which only fueled the bad blood.
Other violent altercations erupted in the following hour, including one Back the Blue man slapping a Black Lives Matter woman in the face, but no one else was arrested.
The Black Lives Matter march, which was organized in response to the pro-police event, began two hours before the Back the Blue rally was scheduled.
“It’s crazy that this community can’t quite grasp why we’re saying black lives matter right now and why cops do not need this extra support,” said Alex Gugliuzza of Mobilize Middle Village, a group that supports the Black Lives Matter movement. “They’re already supported by the system and marching for them is completely done to take away from the Black Lives Matter movement and it’s appalling that they still don’t understand why we’re marching for black lives.”
Fellow Mobilize Middle Village member Manny Martinez added that it’s important to note the Black Lives Matter movement is calling for justice and an end to police brutality. “White people are also affected but they don’t seem to grasp the idea that police brutality, even though it predominantly affects black people, it also affects their own kind,” he said.
The marchers traveled with a police escort from the park down Bell Boulevard, sections of which were closed off to vehicles for the Open Streets, Open Restaurants programs, toward the 111th Precinct before turning around. Some stopped along the way to write the names of people of color who have died at the hands of law enforcement in chalk on the concrete, and were met with some heckling from bystanders along the route.
“Go back to your mother’s basement!” shouted one woman.
“On a Sunday afternoon, really? You people are a disease,” said a man from his 35th Avenue home.
The Back the Blue event began in the Crocheron Park parking lot with music, notably “The Star-Spangled Banner, and many American flags featuring a thin blue line. The pro-police group had a noticeably larger presence and had been chanting “NYPD” when the Black Lives Matter group returned from their 4-mile march.
“Hands up, don’t shoot,” the marchers chanted when they returned to the parking lot.
“I’m a former police officer ... I’m obviously black. I worked for the New York City Police Department, so I know what it is about backing the blue, but it’s also about backing up what’s right, and that’s what I’m standing for,” said a Black Lives Matter marcher, asking to be identified as Mr. Riddick, adding that the movement isn’t anti-police, but anti-police brutality, which includes defunding the department and working toward systemic reform.
“We’re not saying all police are doing a bad job,” added another marcher, preferring to be addressed as Dre. “I think it’s important to change the mentality of certain police to have an understanding of the community a little bit better ... there has to be a way in which they operate that has to change.”
There were several civil debates between the opposing groups in which they tried to convince the other of their arguments, but neither seemed to sway their stance — one Warrior in the Garden member named Gaya accused a Back the Blue man of disrespecting the flag he wore on his shirt.
“I’m not saying you can’t have one, but I’m saying you wearing one is literally disrespecting the flag,” she said before reading The U.S. code for respecting the flag: The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery.
“What is that? Oh, that’s fake news,” he responded after reading the Cornell Law link himself.
The fighting between the two groups fizzled out as the Back the Blue group began their march along Bell Boulevard to the 111th Precinct, following the same path as the previous march, though ending it at the precinct instead of returning to the park. Some Black Lives Matter marchers had also traveled to the precinct to protest Diallo’s arrest. Arguments resumed — one incident caught on camera involved a Back the Blue woman calling a Warriors in the Garden woman an “Asian b--ch.” The latter organization identified the cursing woman as a city schoolteacher and is now calling for her resignation.
According to a Warriors in the Garden organizer, Diallo was released later that day.