At least 100 people occupied the Robert F. Kennedy bridge from Harlem to the Bronx for nearly an hour early Tuesday, capping a protest that began at 5 p.m. Monday in Union Square over a Missouri grand jury’s decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.
The group of protesters, which swelled to more than a thousand at its peak in Times Square, briefly took over both north- and southbound lanes of the bridge before moving into the northbound area exclusively. As a bugle call resounded in the background, the crowd faked out the cops, feinting down one street before quickly turning right and running for the bridge’s on-ramp.
About 28 protesters sat down on the bridge, facing the NYPD with their hands in the air. Others stood and milled around. One man in a black tank top ate a granola bar, while a woman nearby danced with a Hula-Hoop and a skateboarder enjoyed four lanes of pavement all to himself.
Then the group started to march into the Bronx.
“You’re going to have to get back,” ordered a police officer through a megaphone. “There are cars…It’s not safe here.”
The crowd responded with chants of, “Murderers!” and “NYPD, KKK, how many kids have you killed today?”
Despite the drama, only one person was arrested while taking the bridge — for tossing an empty can near the on-ramp.
“I do appreciate that everyone is very on-point,” said one police officer to two activists. “But this [taking over a bridge] is breaking the law, what you did.” Said another: “At this point, it’s late at night, who cares.”
The kettling nets came out and activists dug in their heels. Eventually, a protester suggested heading back to Harlem to “liberate our friends” who had been stopped by police before making it onto the bridge. The group agreed and headed back toward 125th Street, basically getting themselves out of the way.
It was a choice that caused some division, with some activists feeling that their movement was disorganized and lacking in solidarity.
“When we were standing there, we had a completely united front,” said Meghann Chambers, 24, who had been shaking her head with disappointment as the crowd left the bridge. “I would have stayed there all night…That’s a $7.50 toll bridge. Every hour we’re there…that’s federal money, they’re losing. That’s the kind of action that speaks volumes.”
She added, “We could have made more of a statement.”
Earlier in the evening, protesters marched around Union Square until around 9 p.m., when news reports trickled in that Wilson had not been indicted. “No indictment!” and “Shut this city down!” were shouted over the crowd as the news spread via streams from cellphones and an early report from USA Today.
After a moment of silence, the crowd, then just more than 300 people, began to march. Cops set up barricades to keep them contained to Union Square, but the crowd pushed the barricades down and walked down University Place before heading west to Sixth Avenue and north to Times Square.
One person threw fake blood on NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton and his security detail. He was the only other person in the protests who got arrested.
Many cops tried to herd the crowd to one side of the street using scooters, but protesters filled out the entire street — even at the risk of walking less than a foot in front of scooters that repeatedly stopped and started, honking their horns to no avail.
When protesters got off the RFK bridge onto East 125th Street, they briefly stalled, deciding whether to continue or head home. Some protesters held hands as police corralled them onto the sidewalk, facing down officers wearing helmets and tactical gear.
And then, at about 2 a.m., more than 30 police — almost half the detail — headed across the street and gathered under a tree before leaving. When asked where they were going, an officer in a suit said, “Home.”
As the police packed up, so did the protesters. Another protest is planned for today in Union Square, according to a Facebook event page.
The Huffington Post reports that other contingents also marched across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges early Tuesday morning.