• Photos taken by Business Insider show police clashing with protesters, using pepper spray and batons to control the crowd.
  • New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and State Assemblywoman Diane Richardson were both pepper-sprayed, and graphic videos show an officer violently shoving a female protester to the ground.
  • An NYPD van was also set ablaze. “People are fed up, they don’t know what else they can do,” one protester told Business insider.
  • The clashes echoed demonstrations that took place all over the country last night, with protests in Atlanta, Dallas, and Los Angeles.

BROOKLYN At first, the protest outside of the Barclays center in Downtown Brooklyn on Friday night felt familiar. The chants are seared into America’s public consciousness: “No Justice, No Peace. “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.” “Black Lives Matter. “Not One More.”

For decades these chants have remained a constant in protests against police violence against black and brown people in America. The one aspect that changes is the names on the protest signs.

Last night in New York, hundreds of protestors gathered in the name of George Floyd, who was killed on Monday when Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, despite Floyd’s pleas to stop. Chauvin was later charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.

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Jack Crosbie

The air was thick on Friday night, as demonstrators stood together, sweat accumulating on foreheads and along the edges of masks. The New York City Police Department was well-prepared, funneling the majority of the protest into a triangle created by nearby streets, ringed by lines of police and metal barricades.

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Jack Crosbie

For the first hour, the protest felt like a bizarre return to pre-pandemic times, after months inside for most of the New Yorkers there. Friends greeted one another and tried to refrain from hugs. A car hauler drove by on Flatbush, honking its horn. The protesters roared back.

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Jack Crosbie

But I’ve covered several protests in New York, and none of them felt like Friday night. By and large, the NYPD is very good at controlling street demonstrations: instead of large-scale tear gas and riot gear confrontations like the ones that dangerously escalated the Minneapolis protests this week , the NYPD usually prefers to direct the flow of protesters and pick off isolated individuals at the edges for arrest, while allowing the main march or demonstration to continue. Last night, however, the NYPD opted for largely indiscriminate pepper spraying into a mostly confined area.

Demonstrators staggered back through the lines outside of Barclays to small street medic stations, where they were doused with milk, water, or a diluted baking soda solution. I asked a medic how many people he’d treated: “A bunch,” he said, shaking his head. “A bunch, a bunch, a bunch.”

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Jack Crosbie

Two of those sprayed were New York State Senator Zellnor Myrie and State Assemblywoman Diane Richardson. “This is uncalled for,” Richardson told WNYC , her eyes rimmed with red. “They pepper sprayed me for no reason, and I’m sure this has happened to so many people.”

Around 7:30 pm, police started corralling protesters inside the triangle, which led to the first open clash of the night, as uniformed and plainclothes police charged into a knot of protesters with batons, making several arrests.

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The police also struggled to coordinate with other city institutions: when they tried to load arrested protesters onto an MTA bus, the driver, a member of the Transit Workers Union Local 100, stepped off the bus and refused to drive it .

As the cops cleared Barclays, protesters with megaphones directed the protest to nearby Fort Greene park. But clashes with the police continued en route, as a graphic video captured by Newsweek’s Jason Lemon shows an NYPD officer violently pushing a female protester off of her feet into the street.

At the park, the mood was tense, if a little surreal evening dog-walkers scurried through the outskirts of the crowd. The police apparently decided they weren’t going to allow protesters to take the street, limiting their ability to march as a unified bloc. The protest broke up into a series of smaller standoffs on the edges of the park and surrounding streets.

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Jack Crosbie

“I feel like it’s happened so many times, and it keeps happening, without anything changing.” Laura, a 23-year-old preschool teacher, told me. “This is why we have to come out every time.”

As I was talking to Laura, some of the nearby police started to load back into their vans, preparing to move to a different location. The slight shift was enough to push the crowd over the edge. Protestors blocked the two vans from leaving, standing peacefully in the road and blocking the vans. Then someone threw a water bottle, and a rock.

“People are fed up, they don’t know what else they can do,” said Raina, 29.

The events in Brooklyn echoed demonstrations happening simultaneously all over the country , with protests in Atlanta, New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Detroit, Dallas, Washington, DC.

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Jack Crosbie

“It’s the tale of two Americas, you know?” said Kerwyn, a 32-year-old father of three who’s lived in Brooklyn his whole life. “We’re not our parents or our grandparents or their parents. We tried the Martin way. But now people are exercising the Malcolm way.”

A protester slammed a skateboard through the back window of the rear van, and chaos broke out. Two cops burst out of the van, chasing the skater down the street, but stopped after he got too far away. The street was suddenly nearly devoid of police. The bottles coming in at the damaged van were glass now, coupled with bricks people had pried off the retaining wall bordering the park.

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Jack Crosbie

The other back window smashed, then the side windows. Cops emptied out of the van, ran around it, grabbed a bystander’s bike, and threw it down the street. Eventually, they pulled the van back onto the curb, and loaded up in the first van. One person wearing a white shirt apparently a higher-ranking officer stayed behind, trying to keep protesters back from the van as more skateboards hit the windows.

When someone stuck a firework on top, he gave up too, hopping into an unmarked car and peeling out, sending protesters scrambling to get out of the way. The crowd swarmed the van, rocking it from side to side, smashing the rest of the windows. Someone threw a firework in the back seat, then cardboard to feed the flames. A man sat on the hood, posing for a picture. The upholstery caught fire, and the whole van went up, columns of flame shooting into the sky.

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Jack Crosbie

“It felt good,” Priscilla, 19, told me, as the fire department arrived to put out the flames. The police were still gone. “At least we accomplished something tonight.”

“Even the neighbors were coming out and supporting the protest,” she said, referring to residents of the affluent Fort Greene neighborhood.

With the van extinguished, the Fire Department left. I took that as my cue to move on as well. As I left, the crowd was trying to rekindle a fire in the burnt-out, hosed-out back seat, as if to send a message: if the killings continue, so do the flames.

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Jack Crosbie