On July 12, far right elements attempted to hold a rally in Brooklyn on the theme “Back the Blue,” supporting police who have provoked widespread public outcry by routinely murdering Black people and people from other targeted communities and using militarized force to attack demonstrations around the country. Hundreds of people mobilized in response, blocking the pro-cop march and defending themselves from the ensuing attacks by police and their supporters. In the following account, participants in the counter-demonstration describe the events of the day.
On July 12, 2020, a crowd of about two hundred pro-police demonstrators assembled at 4th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway in Brooklyn, carrying various flags, including the “Thin Blue Line” and “Trump 2020” designs, and signs displaying slogans such as “We back the blue” and “God bless the NYPD.” They were accompanied by about a dozen independent “journalists.” The pro-police group planned to march to the 68th Precinct—but along the way, they were confronted, surrounded, and driven away by approximately three hundred determined counter-demonstrators at 4th Avenue and 65th Street, under I-278.
The counter-demonstrators [also referred to later herein as Black Lives Matter demonstrators] gathered at 86th Street and 4th Avenue. Because of police barricades on 4th Avenue and Bay Ridge Parkway, counter-demonstrators moved east to 5th Avenue, then north, eventually making their way back to 4th Avenue in time to cut off the pro-police march.
By 6:30 pm, the police had formed a line between the two sides. Officers had not yet been issued riot shields but carried drawn batons. People in both groups threw objects at each other—mostly empty water bottles, but also including raw eggs. Soon after this began, the organizers of the counter-demonstration endeavored to stop the throwing from their side.
Throughout the encounter, both groups chanted, heckled, and yelled at each other. At least one pro-police demonstrator, a person with a mohawk, repeatedly offered to fight counter-protesters away from police.
The two sides first physically clashed under the awning of Lotto Deli and Grocery. On of the participants in the violent pro-police faction was Marko Kepi, a Republican candidate for the 64th New York Assembly District. Kepi grappled with a counter-demonstrator, shoving her behind the police line and stealing her goggles. He later waved the goggles in the air mockingly at her, asking “Want these back?”
It wasn’t long before the counter-protesters forced the police to call for reinforcements and give ground. The left flank of the pro-police demonstration held under Lotto Deli, while their main line was pushed onto the sidewalk. Counter-demonstrators followed, while more police flowed in from at least four vans parked across the road. This second wave of police wore visored riot helmets.
The tension began to bubble over. The pro-police faction, having been driven back and their march blocked, began to physically clash in earnest with the front line of counter-protesters. There were fewer than fifty Blue Lives Matter marchers remaining. Mr. Kepi, his cronies, and the younger fighters in skull bandanas had already retreated.
At this point, in a five-person scuffle, a pro-police agitator punched the same counter-protester who had been involved in the altercation with Mr. Kepi earlier. She was knocked nearly to the ground. The assailant fled, pursued by several counter-protesters.
The aggressor ran down the road with two other right-wing marchers. “He hit a woman,” people cried, and three young men from the anti-cop side caught up to the aggressor and grabbed him by the shirt, a tank top, which ripped off, leaving the assailant shirtless. Six people—three each from each group of demonstrators—fought, throwing more punches until police separated them.
These police were subsequently surrounded by forty to sixty furious counter-protesters, who began screaming at both the injured brawlers and at the officers. The police, surrounded and isolated, shoved several counter-protesters away.
With the help of police reinforcements, who now flowed steadily onto the scene, the surrounded cadre of officers managed to extricate themselves from the crowd. The violent agitators in their midst came along with them. The police moved them to a nearby NYPD van and loaded the three men inside.
It is important to note that the man who punched the counter-protester in the face was not cuffed before he was loaded into the van. According to Gothamist, none of the three right-wing brawlers were arrested for the assault they committed. However, the NYPD did arrest anti-cop protesters later that night.
Black Lives Matter demonstrators, provoked by the NYPD’s preferential treatment of the violent right-wing agitators, linked arms around the police van. The sun was setting; by this time, the pro-police faction had completely dissolved. The NYPD formed a tight ring around their van and began moving into the crowd. The Black Lives Matter demonstrators did not allow them to pass, and a standoff ensued between the double line of cops and the three ranks of protesters.
One of the captains bellowed a command. The police, holding their batons and nightsticks in both hands as barriers, then slammed into the crowd. Someone in the second rank of protesters yelled, “Push them back,” and the crowd, as one, pushed into the NYPD. The police were forced back against their van. The protesters relented, unlinking, and allowed the police to regroup. The officer driving the van threw it in reverse and attempted to outrun the protesters, who sprinted around to block the van’s egress. The police again charged the crowd, and the protesters once again formed ranks and linked arms to block them. Again, the NYPD were pushed back against their van.
At roughly the same time, in a different part of the protest, a Black anti-police demonstrator came upon several police arresting another protester. When he addressed the nearest officer, the officer shoved him aggressively; a second officer sprinted up and slammed into him from behind. He stepped back, still not physically engaging either of them, but the second officer unholstered his taser and fired it into this unarmed man’s chest without provocation. The Black Lives Matter protester fell to the ground, but managed to detach the Taser’s probes and rise to his feet before the officers, now three in number, commanded by a white shirt [a ranking police officer], bent him over the hood of the car the first officer had shoved him towards. They bent his arms behind his back and cuffed him as he shouted “You’re breaking my arm!”
When the protesters broke ranks, it became clear that there were now several dozen yellow-clad bicycle police in a line across the bridge before them. The van was reversing toward the police bike line, and some of the protesters gave chase. Several protesters yelled that it was a trap—if demonstrators chased the police, they could be easily kettled and arrested. The crowd pulled back.
Another rank of helmeted and visored police now stood behind the bicycle cops, with the makings of a third line behind them. The confrontation had depleted the numbers of the Black Lives Matter group; the police now outnumbered the protesters. The fact that the police who initially responded had not been issued shields or crowd control munitions probably indicates that they underestimated the number of people who would turn out to oppose the pro-cop demonstration.
As twilight approached, one demonstrator burned an unidentified white flag as others added cardboard to stoke the fire. Someone placed a camouflage MAGA hat, said to have been taken from the head of a Nazi in Berkeley during the battle in 2017, in the fire. The crowd celebrated joyously at that sight. A misleading tweet circulated saying “protesters have burned a KKK hood.” This was reportedly a reference to the fact that the MAGA hat is the modern equivalent of a KKK hood.
A lengthy standoff ensued between police officers and protesters fronted by a wall of makeshift shields and bikes. Protesters engaged with one officer who defended the murder of Breonna Taylor and vocally admitted—shockingly and explicably—to being an accessory to rape. About ten minutes later, the bike cops lunged forward, using their batons to break demonstrators’ shields and assaulting the demonstrators themselves. The protesters strategically retreated, dragging trash barrels and other barricade material into the street behind them, effectively slowing the police line. An automated voiced blared over a vehicle-mounted loudspeaker: “Since you have refused to clear the roadway, you will be placed under arrest on the charge of disorderly conduct. If you do not cooperate and accompany the arresting officer to the prisoner transport vehicle, or, if you resist arrest, you may be charged with additional crimes.” The demonstrators replied by dragging more barricading material into the street. Multiple fires broke out in the city trash containers along the street.
Officers then rushed the crowd that was on the sidewalk—screaming “get on the sidewalk!”—and violently pushed demonstrators to the pavement as others ran onto 5th Avenue. Two officers hurtling down the street on their bicycles managed to grab someone between 4th and 5th Avenues. The remaining protesters pulled together into one unit on 5th.
The counter-protesters succeeded in everything they came to do. They blocked the “Back the Blue” march and sent the supporters of police away in disarray, transforming the pro-police demonstration into a fierce anti-police action. The assaults that both the NYPD and their civilian fan base carried out on Sunday illustrate exactly why we continue to fight.