NEW YORK – Chaos erupted Friday afternoon after a large crowd gathered at Manhattan’s Union Square Park for livestreamer Kai Cenat’s meet-and-greet and giveaway.
Things spiraled out of control at around 3 p.m., when some in the crowd could be seen tearing down construction barricades and hurling objects, including throwing some objects at responding police officers.
As the chaos unfolded, a vehicle, believed to have been carrying Cenat, attempted to leave. The crowd could be seen mobbing it. It moved slowly through throngs of people before eventually speeding off, with people clinging to the sides and back. At least three people could be seen tumbling off the vehicle onto the pavement as it sped away.
Cenat was taken into police custody for questioning at around 5 p.m. He did not have a permit for the event or preplan it with police.
Police confirmed Friday evening that Cenat will be charged with at least two counts of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, along with a few other charges.
Earlier in the day, Cenat posted on social media that he would be there in person for the giveaway.on Twitch and other social media platforms.
“Once the people for the giveaway started coming out, that’s when, like, things started to get out of control because people started pushing and stuff,” one witness said.
“They didn’t even get to give away. They left right when everything happened,” said one individual.
“Why stay when things turned chaotic?” CBS New York’s Alice Gainer asked.
“I just felt like it was fun. Like, for me, it’s New York. It was literally YouTubers who came out to show love, and then s*** just got hectic,” he said.
NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said the post quickly went viral, which set the stage for the chaos that followed. Authorities estimated thousands of people showed up for the meet-and-greet and giveaway, which was to involve video game consoles.
“Soon the park and the surrounding streets were overrun with people. They were disrupting both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The NYPD responded by calling a mobilization in response to the large crowd. As the crowd grew, so did our mobilization. The crowd was swarmed when the influencer finally arrived at the park. Individuals in the park began to commit acts of violence towards the police and the public,” Maddrey said.
Watch Chopper 2 over the scene
Maddrey said some in the crowd stormed a construction site and began to hurl construction equipment, paint cans, bottles, rocks and more.
“You had people walking around with shovels, axes, and other tools from the construction trade. In addition, individuals were also lighting fireworks and flash bombs. They were throwing them towards police, and they were throwing them at each other,” Maddrey said.
As the chaos unfolded, Chopper 2 was overhead and spotted people climbing on top of the roof covering the entrance to the Union Square subway station. Others were seen climbing on statues, lamp posts and cars. One person was seen setting off a fire extinguisher, sending huge smoky plumes over the crowd.
The NYPD ultimately called for a massive response – a Level 4 mobilization with roughly 1,000 officers.
Police ultimately declared the gathering an unlawful assembly. They then began warning the crowd to disperse.
“The NYPD offered multiple – and I do mean multiple – opportunities for the crowd to leave. We tried to give them a means of egress for them to exit the park and exit the streets. After numerous warnings and after being assailed, hit with rocks and bottles and other debris, we started to make arrests to clear out the park,” Maddrey said.
“They just went up right here, walking against traffic, like, raging,” one witness said.
Some businesses locked their doors as the crowd ran through.
A 69-year-old man who operates a sidewalk food stand was injured and had items stolen. He told CBS New York he was hit in the head and on his shoulders.
Maddrey said several officers sustained injuries. He said he himself had also been struck by objects.
Those initial responding officers, however, were not in riot gear, wearing helmets, or carrying shields – a clear difference from.
As the situation escalated, officers could be seen with helmets and shields.
“Our officers exercised great restraint despite the aggression they were met with and the acts of violence they were met with,” Maddrey said.
Police say 65 arrests were made. Thirty of those arrested are juveniles.
“At this time, we successfully dispersed the park. But we still have crowds mulling around Manhattan, and we have officers following them, preventing them from destroying property, looting and other things like that,” Maddrey said.
“We have encountered things like this before, but never to this level of dangerousness, where young people would not listen to our commands. They were fighting each other. They were hurting each other, and they were turning [their] attacks on us, and we had to make arrests,” Maddrey said.
Maddrey said it highlighted the power and danger of social media. The event was not preplanned, and was spontaneous.
“We can’t allow this to happen again in the future,” Maddrey said. “Listen, we’re not against young people having a good time. We’re not against young people gathering. But it can’t be to this level, where it’s dangerous. A lot of people got hurt today.”
New York City subways bypassed Union Square station.
It took hours to get the crowd out of the park and hours to clean up the mess.