In the month leading up to last week’s general election, the New York City Police Department made preparations for mass upheaval. Top brass told uniformed officers to prepare to contain unrest following “one of the most highly contested presidential elections in the modern era.” A tactical squad staged amped-up training exercises in preparation for pervasive property destruction. The department, according to an NYPD spokesperson, even got ready to “freeze areas of Manhattan” to car and foot traffic “should wide spread looting occur.”
The post-election riots that the NYPD anticipated never happened. Donald Trump’s attempted coup d’état seemed to have flopped, and New York experienced no notable election irregularities or ballot-counting drama, so the city’s residents didn’t see a need for that kind of escalation. But the cops still policed as if they did. During the three days between Election Day and the announcement of Joe Biden’s Electoral College victory, armored officers stalked and harassed organized protest marches and celebrations, in several instances kettling demonstrators, instigating confrontations, and making violent arrests.
“It was just marching.… it didn’t make any sense for arrests to be made,” said Tameer Peak, who was among more than 50 protesters taken into custody in Manhattan on November 4. Arrests were “definitely the plan,” he said. “It was just run and catch and grab.”
The New York City protests stood in stark contrast to the celebrations that took place across the country on Saturday, when activists and marginalized communities who had spent the last several months enduring cop violence were joined in the streets by white liberals rejoicing over news networks’ declaration of Trump’s defeat, prompting almost no confrontations with police. Since those celebrations, cop aggression at New York demonstrations has already resumed.
The dynamic reinforces an argument often made by Black Lives Matter protesters: that Trump’s defeat, though a necessity, doesn’t represent a fundamental change in the on-the-ground fight against institutions of authoritarian oppression in the United States—especially the police.