Thousands swarm New York’s Union Square for freebies, throwing chairs and bombing cars

Thousands swarm New York's Union Square for freebies, throwing chairs and bombing cars

NEW YORK (AP) — The crowd of thousands who packed Manhattan’s Union Square for a popular livestream donation rally turned out Friday afternoon, with some climbing vehicles, throwing chairs and throwing punches, leaving police struggling to rein in the chaos.

Television news footage from the air showed a packed, tightly packed crowd roaming the streets, climbing buildings in the park and snarling traffic. Teenagers screamed as they shook things in front of car windows, threw paint cans and lit fire extinguishers. Some people got on a moving vehicle, and fell on it as it drove away. Others were bombed or boarded city buses.

By 5:30 pm, police officers in increasing numbers had regained control of much of the area, but small skirmishes still broke out, with youths banging on barriers and throwing bottles and even a flower pot at the officers. Police were seen wrestling people to the ground and chasing them down the street.

New York Police Department chief Jeffrey Madre said in the evening that police planned to charge the singer, Kay Senat, with multiple counts of incitement to riot, unlawful assembly and possibly other crimes. The officers arrested 65 people, including 30 minors.

A number of people were injured, including at least four people who were taken away in ambulances, Madre said, adding that he saw other people leaving the area with bloodied heads.

“People were suffering here,” Madre said. Some motorists were trapped as people climbed on top of their cars. Madre said several police vehicles were damaged, including his own.

On his Instagram feed, Cenat promoted a 4 p.m. giveaway in the park. People started lining up as early as 1:30 p.m. By 3 p.m. the crowd had swelled and became unruly. Some of the young people leaving the park said they had come expecting a streaming computer or a new PlayStation.

Skylark Jones, 19, and his friend came to see Senat and try to get something from his donations. When they arrived the scene was already packed. Bottles were thrown. They said there was an uproar even before Senat appeared.

“It was a movie,” Jones said. The police “came in with riot shields, and attacked people.”

Senat, 21, is a vlogger with 6.5 million followers on the Twitch platform, where he streams videos on a regular basis. He also has 4 million subscribers on YouTube, where he posts vlogs about everyday life and comedy ranging from “Fake Hibachi Chef Prank!” To his most recent video, “You Hire Us Girlfriends in Japan!”

His 299 YouTube videos have had over 276 million views between them. In December, he was crowned Player of the Year at the 12th Annual Streamy Awards. Letters sent to his advertising firm and email address for business inquiries were not immediately returned.

Broadcasting live on Twitch from a drive-in while the event was gathering steam, Cenat offered gift cards he intended to give away. Noting the presence of the crowd and the police, he urged, “Whoever is there, see your safety. … We will do nothing until it is safe.”

Eventually he and his entourage got out of the car and passed a crowd, crossed the street and entered the park, where Senat was surrounded by a mob.

Madre said Senat was removed sometime in the afternoon “for his own safety” and was contacted by police. Videos posted on social media taken from news helicopters showed Senat being lifted over a fence, out of the crowd, and then put into a police car.

The police chief also said that the city bus full of arrested people was attacked and more policemen had to be sent to protect it. Several people were seen handcuffed, sitting on the sidewalks, and several young men were taken away in handcuffs.

“We’ve encountered things like this before but it never reached this level of seriousness,” Madre said. Three officers were wounded, including a sergeant who broke his hand. He said a teenager was injured by a firecracker explosion.

Businesses adjacent to the square closed their doors. Karina Traill, manager of the eyewear store near the Petite Optique, took shelter inside while police dispersed the crowd.

“Normally with people giving free stuff, that would never happen. It’s very organized,” she said. “And here we have a very chaotic scene.”

The loud bangs at one point frightened some in the crowd.

“It was a little scary, especially when people started running,” Trail said.

Police, some wielding batons, used metal barriers to push the crowd back and loudspeakers to announce over and over that the assembly was illegal.

“Listen, we’re not against young people having a good time,” Madre said, “we’re not against young people gathering.” “But it can’t be dangerous at this level. Too many people are injured today.”


Associated Press journalists Dave Collins, Robert Bumstead, David Martin, Ayesha Mir, Brooke Lansdale, Mallika Sen, Deepti Hajela and Karen Matthews contributed to this report.

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