looting damage on Burnside Ave

Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Damage seen on Burnside Avenue in the Bronx, June 2, 2020.

“The Bronx was burning Monday night, and suddenly it was 1977 all over again,” wrote one tabloid columnist last week. “It’s been going on for days, everywhere.”

That’s the impression one might get from some news outlets, or the comments of the president about looting and shooting. Or, one might come to that conclusion by reasoning backwards: If Mayor de Blasio imposed an unprecedented curfew for six days on the entire city, the entire city must have been experiencing violent unrest.

As most New Yorkers know, that was not the case. There were multiple serious incidents of violence in a few areas of the city, with people—including police officers—injured in several of them.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., speaking to City Limits as he attended a protest rally on the Grand Concourse on Sunday, said 127 stores in the Bronx were damaged, some robbed, on the night of June 1. Twenty-seven were on Fordham Road, and Burnside Avenue was also hit hard. Diaz blamed a coordinated criminal syndicate for the bulk of the robberies. Other incidents, he said, could have been perpetrated to take advantage of the protests—but they also could have been run-of-the-mill break-ins.

Every part of the city is affected by what happens in any part of the city. Even if the unrest were confined to a few areas, it would still be a problem for city officials to solve—obviously. An impression of widespread unrest, however, could justify actions and opinions that the facts do not support.

Part of the problem here could be that many New Yorkers, including many reporters, have never participated in a protest. A raucous demonstration—with shouting, music, cursing, and marching throngs—might look like unrest to someone who doesn’t understand that peaceful protest doesn’t mean quiet protest. (A 2018 Gallup poll found that about a third of U.S. residents had ever felt the urge to protest something. Presumably, a smaller share of the population actually did something about that urge, and protested—although that could be changing: A separate survey indicates that one in five people in the U.S. had attended a rally or protest since 2016).

The NYPD says a comprehensive listing of property damage or violent activity during the May 31 to June 2 period is not available.

To get a better sense of what was seen around the city last week, City Limits surveyed all the city’s 59 community boards to ask what violent unrest—and peaceful protest—they had seen.

These inquires spanned several days, so it is possible there has been subsequent activity in some areas. Community boards are not omniscient, and we didn’t hear back from every one, but we did learn enough to say it is likely that, tabloid reports notwithstanding, most of New York was not in flames last week.

(If you want to find your community board, or learn more about any of the ones named here, here’s a resource.)

The Bronx

Board 5 in the Bronx (Fordham, University Heights, Mount Hope) is where most of the damage to which Diaz referred appears to have been concentrated. “There was significant damage along Burnside Avenue. There was also some damage on the Grand Concourse, and Fordham Road,” a board representative told City Limits. There had also been a peaceful protest that weekend.

Community Board 4 (Highbridge, Concourse, Mount Eden) referred us to Cary Goodman, Executive Director of the 161st Street Business Improvement District, who said there had been “No violence, no looting.” There had been peaceful protest, however: at least three demonstrations during the week.

Boards 3 (Crotona Park, Claremont Village, Morrisania), 6 (Belmont, West Farms, East Tremont) and 9 (Parkchester, Harding Park, Clason Point) said they’d received reports of neither protest nor unrest.

In Board 11 (Allerton, Pelham Parkway, and Van Nest), District Manager Jeremy Warneke says a window was broken June 1 at a Benjamin Moore store. Also that day, a Molotov cocktail was thrown at a beauty supply store, but it was not believed to be connected to the broader unrest or protest. On June 2, he said, Morris Park business owners guarded their properties, and some boarded up their businesses. That same day, there was a protest of up to 100 people in the district.

George Torres, the district manager for Bronx Board 12 (Edenwald, Wakefield, Woodlawn), said there had been no destructive or violent protests. “I spoke with the [FDNY] Battalion Commander Tuesday afternoon and he told me that the checking cashing facility across the street from the firehouse on East 233rd had a fire but there was no link to any protest,” Torres said.

Brooklyn

Brooklyn Board’s 3 (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Stuyvesant Heights, Ocean Hill) and 10 (Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights, Fort Hamilton) said they had seen protests and no violence – and Boards 11 (Bath Beach, Gravesend, Bensonhurst) and 15 said there had been no protests at all, as well as no looting. “There is no looting… no protesting or anything going on in this district,” emailed Theresa Scavo, the CB15 (Sheepshead Bay, Manhattan Beach, Homecrest) chairperson. Board 8 (Crown Heights, Prospect Heights, Weeksville) said it had seen only peaceful protests.

The district manager at Board 4 (Bushwick) said that office had received reports that a Modell’s on Knickerbocker Avenue was vandalized—its window was smashed. Separately, at least one vigil had occurred.

“My district has been pretty quiet and I am aware of the protest at the federal prison site near 29th street and it marched to Sunset Park,” Jeremy Laufer, the manager for board 7 (Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace), said. “Yesterday I noticed a little more graffiti than before but [it] might not be a product of what is going on and that might be a product of it not being cleaned up as quickly as before. I am not aware of any businesses being damaged and I spoke with the precincts this morning.”

Manhattan

Manhattan certainly saw the most violence. Board 5 (Midtown) told us there had been looting on 5th Avenue between 14 and 23rd streets, where every storefront that was not boarded was broken into on the nights of May 31 and June 1. The looters worked systematically, as teams, according to reports the board had received. Macy’s, however, seemed to be targeted by individuals rather than a large group. There was widespread frustration with the lack of police response, according to the board. But there seemed no connection between the looters and protests.

In Board 6 (Stuyvesant Town, Murray Hill, Kips Bay), Rob Byrnes, the East Midtown Partnership’s president, said at least 27 businesses had been affected – some were tagged with graffiti, others had windows smashed “and a few were cleaned out by looters.” The damage was seen around the district, but mostly on Lexington Avenue between 54th and 60th streets. There had been peaceful marches as well, Byrnes said.

Manhattan Board 3 (East Village, Lower East Side, Chinatown) told us that more than 70 businesses were looted or damaged over the last weekend in May and on June 1. Fifteen were in Chinatown. Large peaceful protests also occurred.

Manhattan CB4 (Clinton, Chelsea) Chairman Lowell Kern said he had received reports from neighbors of looting that took place June 1 in Chelsea, concentrated along an approximately six-block stretch and seemingly starting at a liquor store on 20th Street and 9th Avenue. The 300 West 20th Street Block Association told the community board that the thefts seemed not to be committed by protestors, but by a group of people who appeared “very coordinated” and were loading goods into waiting cars.

Neighbors shared photos of smashed windows along 8th and 9th avenues: at a vape shop, a vegan restaurant, a bank, a beauty salon, a FedEx location and a Trek bike shop. Police took more than an hour to arrive on the scene, according to the local block association. Eric Marcus, a member of the 300 West 20th Street Block Association who publishes the group’s newsletter, says he’d also seen two peaceful protests in the neighborhood in the past week, heading north up 9th Avenue: the first drew a modest crowd, but one that took place last Wednesday afternoon was “huge … with people carrying signs of all kinds and a very diverse multi-racial mix of people.”

“It was thrilling and my partner and I applauded and cheered from the sidewalk—and people applauded and cheered back,” Marcus told City Limits in an email.

In Board 7 (Manhattan Valley, Upper West Side, Lincoln Square), Mark Diller, the chairman, told City Limits there had been relatively little damage. “One store had a window broken but it’s unclear if it was because of protestors. I understand that Best Buy on Broadway in Lincoln Square area was looted or at least broken into. Other than that, it’s been peaceful protests. On Tuesday night, during full board meeting we did over Zoom, we could hear the protestors marching Amsterdam Avenue.”

Manhattan Boards 1 (Tribeca, Financial District, Battery Park City) and 2 (Greenwich Village, West Village, NoHo, SoHo) did not respond to our requests, but media reports indicate there was looting there. Incidents were also reported in District 9 (Hamilton Heights, Morningside Heights, West Harlem).

Queens

In Queens Board 1 (Astoria, Long Island City, Queensbridge, Woodside), District Manager Florence Koulouris said the Modell’s Sporting Goods at Plaza 48 Shopping Center had been looted. There had also been at least three protests.

Queens Board 3 (Jackson Heights, East Elmhurst, North Corona), 8 (Fresh Meadows, Holliswood, Kew Gardens Hills) and 10 (Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Richmond Hill) said they’d heard of neither violence nor protests in their neck of the woods. Elected officials in Board 4 (Corona, Elmhurst, Newtown) on Thursday made public rumors of a “loot out” set for Friday, June 5 that does not appear to have materialized. Board 7 said there’d been no reports of damage, and only a small protest.

“There have been demonstrations within the Queens Community Board 11 district where residents have exercised their First Amendment rights in support of civil rights,” Mike Budabin, chairperson of CB11 (Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck), said. “The 111th NYPD Precinct has supported and supervised these demonstrations and, to our knowledge, has been present at each rally thus far. The staff of Queens Community Board 11 will continue to support peaceful demonstrations in our district while working with both our residents and police to try and ensure the safety of both the public and our police officers.”

Board 14 (Breezy Point, Broad Channel, Rockaway, Far Rockaway) District Manager Jonathan Gaska, said there were no reports of looting. He said there’d been a protest near his office that was well organized. “It was led by Rockaway Youth Task Force, they marched to Donahue Park by Beach 9th and Beach 19th streets,” he said. “From what folks told me, Councilmember Donovan Richards and the Rockaway Youth Task Force told the crowd, ‘If you are not from here, you’ve got to leave.’”

Staten Island

On Staten Island, Board 2 (Midland Beach, New Dorp, Todt Hill) District Manager Debra Derrico said the board has no information to report. The Board 1 (Arlington, Mariners Harbor, Stapleton) Chairman, Nicholas Siclari, had more to say.

“To be honest there were two demonstrations at Borough Hall, both were very peaceful. And then there was a march from Tompkins Avenue to Borough Hall, which was peaceful. And then a march from Park Villa to Borough Hall, and that was peaceful,” he said. “We’ve had no property damage in CB1, no violence. We’ve been very, very lucky.”

10 thoughts on “How Widespread Was Violence on New York’s Nights of Unrest?

  1. CB2, SoHo shops were looted on several nights. Will our shops ever re-open? What did those looters prove?

    • That depends if they can still get insurance, and how much that insurance will now cost them. Insurers may read all this talk about defunding the police as a reason to stop insuring vulnerable retail properties or charge astronomical premiums for such insurance.

    • It proves that those individuals who harbour criminal intentions will take advantage of any situation, no matter what the cause. It appears as though these were organised gangs with no connection to the peaceful protesters that were taking advantage that the majority of law enforcement were concentrating on peaceful protesters and not on the real criminal element.

  2. As a SoHo resident, I can say mist of us agree that the looting here was done by organized criminal crews. They had no connection to the peaceful marchers
    that come through here.

      • The article points out that the looters seemed very organized and had cars waiting to receive the targeted items. Maybe they forgot to wear the t-shirts you deem necessary.
        Why is it difficult to envision criminals taking advantage of the situation. The looters were NOT the protesters.

  3. This is woefully incomplete by not including the downtown areas, especially SoHo which was hit very hard with looting.

    Also, there was more than the looting: What about all the destroyed vehicles, and all the street fires?

    This surely seemed like more than enough reason to call a curfew. Really it should have been called sooner. After curfews were enforced the violence and chaos subsided.

  4. The comparison is not to a city in flames, it is to a peaceful city. The violence was obviously widespread—since it happened all across the city, and the amount of damage was in fact extensive. I didn’t see all the damage, but I know that most of SoHo was boarded up, and 9th Avenue in Chelsea was demolished.

    Community boards are now telling police to avoid confronting people who are shooting off fireworks all night that have kept people up for weeks. Did they do this during the protests? I don’t trust them. In any case, how is it that store owners and residents were not contacted for this story, reported by no less than seven different reporters? Not one sane New Yorker blames the protestors for this, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Why downplay it, especially when anyone can view YouTube video of the scenes—all pretty scary—at their leisure? I wasn’t here in ’77, but the tabloid’s comparison to the bad old days seems apt, based on the footage.

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