International Business Times / Connor Adams Sheets
International Business Times / Cameron Barnes
International Business Times / Cameron Barnes
A relative peace returned to East Flatbush, Brooklyn, Thursday night as the fourth straight day of protests against the NYPD over the Saturday shooting death of 16-year-old Kimani "Kiki" Gray at the hands of two undercover officers.
There appeared to have been no arrests and almost no violence the night after a clash between police and protesters led to more than 40 arrests, a number of broken car windows and one injured policeman.
But the night was not without controversy, as local community members rallying in solidarity with Gray's family clashed with members of outside groups including Occupy Wall Street.
The clashes began hours after a Thursday press conference near the site of Gray's death during which a litany of community, political and spiritual leaders accused the "outsiders" of inciting the violence that preceded the police crackdown late Wednesday.
A vigil was planned for 8 p.m. Thursday at the makeshift memorial for Gray at the intersection of 55th Street and Church Avenue, but as the hour grew near, dozens of protesters flooded in from outside of the community.
The "outside" group was under the sway of makeshift leader Jose Lasalle, a member of both Occupy Wall Street and the Harlem-based group Stop Stop and Frisk Freedom Fighters, who explained his interpretation of the motivation behind their advocacy a couple of hours before the vigil began.
"We said for seven days we was going to protest and we said on the fourth day we're going to present demands to the 67th Precinct," he explained, adding, "The best thing for is for the community and the organizations in the community ... to understand that we have a problem in our community and it's police brutality."
And so as Kenny Carter, president of the local organization Fathers Alive In The Hood, attempted to lead a community tribute to Gray featuring a group prayer, discussion of relevant issues and a moment of silence, the outside groups, led by OWS, thwarted his efforts, shouting him down, focusing on unrelated issues and continuing to yell mottos during his attempt to impose 31 seconds of silence.
The groups became embroiled at that point in a display that turned out to be a recurring them of the night, as local protesters concerned with getting justice for Gray's death broke into loud arguments with the "outsiders," muddying both group's messages and building bad blood between the two dueling sides.
Meanwhile, hundreds of police officers on foot, horseback and in vehicles had descended on the area, blocking off ways of egress and erecting metal barriers in an effort to control the protesters.
Carter, who was speaking through a megaphone, was eventually able to lead his crew through the scrum of visiting protesters and initiate a march down Church Avenue in the direction of the New Horizon Gospel Ministries storefront church, where City Councilman Jumaane Williams and local clergy had set up a community forum in an attempt to harness the energy of the rowdy crowd in service of a positive goal.
The Occupy contingent followed just behind the local protesters, and as they made their way down Church, the differences in their messages were brought to the fore as their competing slogans drowned one another out, much to the chagrin of those who were leading each group.
"Peace up, guns down," the Gray mourners chanted, followed by "We want justice for who? Kimani Gray," as cops lined the street and an NYPD helicopter hummed overhead.
"NYPD, KKK. How many kids did you kill today? Without justice, no peace. F*** the police," countered the Occupy-led troupe.
Their messages merged at one point as Carter led a chant shared by all in attendance of the OWS standard, "whose streets? Our streets."
But when the two groups finally stopped to meet Williams in front of New Horizon, nerves were running high, and the groups were not shy about expressing their views about one another's tactics.
"I wouldn't say disrespect, it's just there's no communication," Carter explained in a brief interview as the crowd approached the church.
But it was more than just a lack of communication that led to the showdown that followed, as fed-up local supporters of Gray's family came face to face once again with the more numerous Occupy-led outfit.
One of the former group's members engaged in a light shoving match with an Occupy member directly in front of the church before spitting in his face in response to a comment by the Occupier that was inaudible even to those within close earshot.
But Williams was able to draw a couple dozen attendees into the church, where he and local clergymen engaged in a forum focused on prayer, ways to address intra-community violence and police brutality, and formulating a list of demands they plan to deliver to the nearby 67th Precinct.
Still, a majority of the protesters chose to attempt to continue to march on the precinct house, and after being relieved of some of the more peace-minded members of the delegation, they cut loose on Church Avenue, falling short of breaking windows, throwing bottles or inciting violence, but still tearing down the street in the manner of an angry mob aware of the arrests that would result from any step outside the boundaries set by the NYPD.
When the marchers reached Nostrand Avenue, they turned left toward the precinct, but were confronted at Snyder by a roadblock of dozens of police officers determined to make a stand -- the procession would not be allowed to reach the 67th without a fight.
And so the march halted, and though the protesters screamed any number of foul insults at the gathered force, they didn't incite them to move in, and soon grew fairly resigned.
But then came the hairiest part of the evening, the part that brought to mind the "riots" of Monday and Wednesday night. A group of about three dozen young local community members split from the pack and headed back up Church toward the site of Gray's slaying.
They ran, they walked, they screamed and they banged on metal grates pulled down to protect businesses, but they had apparently been tempered by the dozens of arrests the previous nights into refusing to incite the police, who followed them the whole way back to the spread of candles and flowers that has come to represent the final resting place of Kiki Gray.
And when they arrived they were confronted by the sight of dozens of tranquil mourners, and though they continued to yell slurs at the police lined up at the intersection, they calmed down. The sweet smell of blunts wafted through the air, and the band of protesters reverted back to the role of community members, greeting one another with handshakes and occasional hugs.
And so the night ended without much in the way of an incident, as the prospect of several more successive nights of protest loomed high.