“Blue Lives Matter” Comes to Brooklyn, and Everyone Screams

In Bay Ridge, pro-police demonstrators were met with the righteous anger of Black Lives Matter.

Hamilton Nolan July 13, 2020

(Photo by Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The most pow­er­ful exam­ple of Brooklyn’s incred­i­ble melt­ing pot of cul­tures can be found not in the Caribbean enclaves of Flat­bush or the Russ­ian area of Brighton Beach, but rather on the qui­et res­i­den­tial streets of Bay Ridge. That’s where the Trump sup­port­ers live. It is they, iron­i­cal­ly, who rep­re­sent the real diver­si­ty here. As I stood on Fourth Avenue on Sun­day, watch­ing a mass of white peo­ple hold­ing TRUMP-PENCE 2020 flags and Blue Lives Mat­ter” signs advance down the mid­dle of the street behind a van­guard of Harley David­sons, I thought: I can’t believe I’m still in Brooklyn.” 

Even the less violent among us have to admit that the draw of these events is not just the chance to wave a righteous sign, but also the much more visceral thrill of screaming in the face of someone we consider to be our enemy.

You have to go all the way down to the far south­west cor­ner of Brook­lyn, in the shad­ows of the bridge to Stat­en Island, to find the sort of clas­sic all-Amer­i­can scenes — flag-tot­ing moms unload­ing kids from the mini­van to go march with angry racists — that played out in Bay Ridge this week­end. New York City keeps such things con­fined to the geo­graph­ic mar­gins. Neigh­bor­hoods are fortress­es. A Blue Lives Mat­ter” march like­ly wouldn’t make it three blocks up Flat­bush Ave with­out being show­ered with trash, but in Bay Ridge it was all smiles and pro-police chants like, Who pro­tects our senior cen­ters? N‑Y-P‑D!” The crowd was heavy on mid­dle-aged women and over­ly tanned men with per­ma­nent scowls, peo­ple who look like they were born ready to argue. Lots of medi­um-high ankle socks and car­go shorts. One woman faced her cell phone as she marched along, livestream­ing. The fun­ny thing is, you don’t see loot­ers out here,” she said to her vir­tu­al audi­ence. You won’t see rioters…” 

I’d got­ten a ride to the event from my friend from Long Island and who shares a cer­tain per­son­al­i­ty type with the pro-cop South Brook­lyn crowd (con­fronta­tion­al, loud), but does not share their pol­i­tics. The racism is so damn strong there. I know three drug deal­ers who are pro-cop now,” he yelled on the way over, amid road rage out­bursts. I’m like bro, what the hell are you talk­ing about, I sup­port the police.’ You’ve been sell­ing drugs for thir­ty years! That’s what racism does to people.” 

The oth­er­world­ly qual­i­ty of the pro-police march snapped back into New York City real­i­ty when the counter pro­test­ers arrived — hun­dreds of them, chant­i­ng Black Lives Mat­ter,” restor­ing in an instant one’s faith in the city. Because my friend and I are both short-haired white men with no polit­i­cal­ly iden­ti­fi­able slo­gans on our t‑shirts, we could blend into either side of the protest. Once, on the pro-cop side of the line, sev­er­al young men with flag ban­danas on their faces paused as they ran by us, appar­ent­ly on the way to find a fight. They said to us, wild-eyed, Come on, we need more guys!” Lat­er, we stepped away from the action for a moment to stand on a curb, and a Bay Ridge local sidled up to us and asked con­spir­a­to­ri­al­ly, You guys ready for anoth­er Fort Sumter?” 

There were some tense moments. Water bot­tles and eggs were thrown back and forth. I saw a police offi­cer shove one young female counter pro­test­er as hard as he could, and anoth­er was hit with a taser for no good rea­son. Twice I saw counter pro­test­ers snatch Amer­i­can flags away from peo­ple on the oth­er side. The first was torn to shreds tri­umphant­ly to cheers, and the sec­ond was burned under­neath the Gowanus Express­way over­pass. That was short­ly after a car car­ry­ing a pro-police cou­ple got hemmed in on three sides by counter pro­test­ers, and on the oth­er side by a parked police van. Peo­ple start­ed yelling at the occu­pants, and then the car accel­er­at­ed a bit in a dan­ger­ous jolt, and some­one kicked the door. It felt, momen­tar­i­ly, like we might be in for anoth­er episode of demon­stra­tors being run over, as we’ve seen in mul­ti­ple cities. But the car man­aged to escape. 

Most­ly, though, there were lit­tle knots every­where of angry Bay Ridge res­i­dents curs­ing at BLM sup­port­ers, and vice ver­sa, as the police sort of lazi­ly drift­ed around keep­ing them more or less apart. When an NYPD suck my dick!” chant start­ed, an old­er man on the oth­er side yelled, Shame on you with the lan­guage! Real classy lan­guage!” A few min­utes lat­er, he point­ed at a young woman and laughed, She’s cry­ing like a bitch.” Like­wise, one of the locals who kept rush­ing around with his arms flared and his neck mus­cles tense was car­ry­ing a pro-NYPD sign that read Blessed Are the Peacemakers.” 

After this dynam­ic had gone on for an hour or so, and the cops had bro­ken out the riot hel­mets and start­ed to form a line across the road, one BLM pro­test­er final­ly explod­ed. Why are you always fac­ing us?” he demand­ed, inch­es away from an impas­sive cop’s plas­tic-shield­ed face. I hadn’t noticed before, but he had a point. The NYPD had not only marched along smil­ing with the orig­i­nal Blue Lives Mat­ter march, but, after the oth­er side arrived, they had con­sis­tent­ly kept their backs towards the locals and faced the BLM side. This, despite the fact that there was, from what I saw, an equal amount of hol­ler­ing, push­ing, and throw­ing of things from both sides. Per­haps there’s a page in the police train­ing man­u­al on this mys­te­ri­ous one side only” tactic.

There is no doubt that real dan­ger lurks at these events. Had there not been quite so many police offi­cers between the two groups, there cer­tain­ly could have been a blood­bath, because both sides had a fair­ly high per­cent­age of mus­cu­lar young men who had that rec­og­niz­able glee­ful lust to punch some­one flash­ing in their eyes. Even the less vio­lent among us have to admit that the draw of these events is not just the chance to wave a right­eous sign, but also the much more vis­cer­al thrill of scream­ing in the face of some­one we con­sid­er to be our ene­my. This is a uni­ver­sal human plea­sure. And, I think, one that is healthy, right up until the punch­es start. 

It’s okay to be mad about injus­tice. Every earnest con­ver­sa­tion between the pro-cop and anti-cop peo­ple that I saw inevitably devolved first to sar­casm, then to insults, then to pro­fan­i­ty, and some­times to threats. It may be that we should just give our­selves col­lec­tive per­mis­sion to scream some­times. The cathar­sis might help to avoid that whole next Fort Sumter” thing. 

Watch­ing the con­trast between all of the uplift­ing slo­gans about how the Boys in Blue are here to Pro­tect the Com­mu­ni­ty and the real­i­ty of what was play­ing out on 4th Avenue made me won­der how sin­cere we real­ly are with one anoth­er. Though painful, rude­ness is prob­a­bly prefer­able to schmaltzy, dis­hon­est PR slo­gans in the long run. I stood for three min­utes and watched one con­ver­sa­tion between a BLM pro­test­er and a local spi­ral down­wards until the large Bay Ridge man in a white t‑shirt was just stand­ing there, behind a line of police, shout­ing, Fuck your moth­er! Fuck your moth­er twice!” 

That, at least, is sin­cere. If you want to march for free­dom, it’s bet­ter to know what you’re up against. 

Hamil­ton Nolan is a labor reporter for In These Times. He has spent the past decade writ­ing about labor and pol­i­tics for Gawk­er, Splin­ter, The Guardian, and else­where. You can reach him at Hamilton@​InTheseTimes.​com.

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