New York City
From Bill Tynan/Manhattan (Midtown East)
Last Sunday, I told friends that I was about to drive back from Connecticut, where because of COVID-19 I’ve been sequestering since mid-March, for a one-day stay in my New York City apartment. They advised against it. After all, I’m in the health-endangered Golden Ager demographic.
Even more problematic, they felt, were the sometimes-violent demonstrations and looting that had been going on for five days in various parts of the city, as elsewhere in the country, in response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But after closely monitoring the radio and television reports in the 24 hours that led up to my departure, I decided to make the trip. And I’m glad I did.
I reached my apartment quickly and easily.
Just after 4 p.m., while I was paying some bills, I heard a commotion outside. Something was happening down on the street. (Even though my apartment is on the 23rd floor, sound has always carried up to it easily.) I quickly realized that what I was hearing was demonstrators. Protestors.
I was surprised. I live in a nondescript residential section of Manhattan, on First Avenue, a block from the East River and far from what is usually thought of as the action. What impetus was there, I wondered, for demonstrators to be drawn to my area?
Opening a window to look down to the street, I saw and heard what at first looked like part of the Thanksgiving parade: slowly pedaling uptown was a neat phalanx of four dozen or so bike riders. They had claimed all four lanes of the avenue. And they were followed, I soon saw, by more dozens—no, hundreds!— of people on foot. People of all colors, many dressed in black, most wearing masks and some carrying signs, which I unfortunately couldn’t read from my location.
The group was orderly, peaceful and determined. I found the sight moving.
“George Floyd!,” they were chanting, over and over again. As they moved up the avenue, to be replaced by new marchers, the chant evolved. It became, “Black lives matter!”
Then, “Justice now!”
And, “I can’t breathe!”
And stunningly, with arms raised high above their heads, “Don’t shoot!”
The group rotated back and forth among the chants, again and again.
I had looked at my clock when I first heard the crowd. I looked at it again when the last of the group had finally passed, at its rear a lone police car, its red, white and blue lights flashing. It had taken the marchers some 22 minutes to pass by below, striding six or seven or even eight and nine across. They can’t have been only hundreds, I now thought. Surely they had numbered in the thousands.
Indeed they had, I found out the day after from a radio report. The NYPD estimated the group as being about 4,000. They had been on their way to Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor’s residence, some two miles north of me.
In retrospect, and even when I was watching them, I think it was not only the group’s mission but also their demeanor that I found so moving. Though determined— even passionate— about what they were doing, they seemed to be nearly as determined to be respectful of their fellow citizens on the sidewalks, many of whom cheered them as they passed by and even joined in the chanting. If pedestrians wanted to cross the avenue, the group let them walk right through their ranks. Onlookers who ran into the marchers’ midst to take cell-phone videos were skirted, courteously, perhaps actually welcomed as providing proof of the group’s peacefulness.
I also found out today that the group had been marching to Gracie Mansion because they’d been told that the mayor was at home. By the time they got there, though, he had left. Too bad. I wish he’d been there to witness them marching and behaving in what I’d like to think of as the best of the American way. In response to the worst of the American way.
From Ruth Balin/Manhattan (Midtown)
I walked from 51st and Fifth to 60th and Madison. The warm weather and quiet were pleasant. And Central Park, all green, in the distance was beautiful. But the boarded windows along the way were shocking.