“Does anybody need water?” a blond man in glasses and a graphic tee depicting a cat in outer space asked the crowd gathered on the corner of 55th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York on Monday night. It was 8:56 p.m, and already a long night. This mass protest of at least a thousand New Yorkers and tourists alike had been confined by barricades to the sidewalks of one of Manhattan’s main thoroughfares already for over four hours, awaiting President Donald Trump’s first homecoming to Trump Tower since his inauguration. It seemed less and less likely that Trump would be on time for his estimated arrival of 9 p.m.
Having first gathered at 4:30, the crowd was not just thirsty, but agitated. These protestors were eager for their first chance to directly air their anger with not just the president’s fraught administration, but his much-delayed condemnation of the white supremacists behind the violence in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend. It felt somewhat fitting, then, that Trump’s return was also delayed.
“This is kind of like when you know you missed curfew and your mom is waiting up for you to come home,” one man said, turning to his friend. “We are not going to fall asleep.”
Protesting had started in front of the Tower with the after-school crowd, but as things went on, they were pushed to abutting blocks—and replaced with adults and teens making their way home after work. Still, even around 7 p.m., when the main protest was set to end, the giant inflatable of Trump as a rat stayed afloat, and things remained relatively buoyant: “I really like your buttons,” one woman offered to another decked out in pins. Two men took advantage of their close proximity to get to know each other: “Sarah Paulson is my favorite actress,” one said earnestly.
But as the sky got darker, the atmosphere also grew increasingly dark. It wasn’t long before the CitiBikers, cabs, and airport shuttles in the streets had been replaced by undercover and uniformed cops handing out their own water bottles to each other, as well as circles of SUVs and other menacing government vehicles that were greeted by a chorus of “boos.” With more uniformed personnel there came more chants: “Hey ho, hey ho, Donald Trump has got to go” was particularly popular with the group gathered in front of the Coach and Stuart Weitzman stores; there was also “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” as well as more assertive call-outs: “You stupid little boy, a nuke is not a toy” and “F--- Nazi scum.”
“It’s getting a little turnt,” the man who’d made the curfew joke said when a giant police truck showed up bearing even more barricades. Two black cars got alarmingly close to the crowd to block off the avenue—too close, considering what happened in Charlottesville. “Shame, shame, shame,” cried the crowd.
As the cops got closer, it became increasingly apparent how many uniformed officers obstructing those standing up against white supremacy were in fact people of color. The protestors took note: “Who are you protecting? Who do you serve?” they chanted at 9:24 p.m. The President was already about 10 minutes late at that point.
For one black and latina 19-year-old, the disconnect was too much: Kiera Jerez, who grew up up in Harlem and the Bronx and had been in the area since 4:30 p.m. with two of her friends, said that ever since she’d arrived, she noticed that “a lot of the cops, especially the cops of color, kind of look like they don't even want to f---ing be here—especially if you look them in the eyes. There was one point where the cops were actually pushing us off the street and onto the ground, and some were grabbing their guns, but there was one latino cop who just stood there.”
And so, as they stood sequestered confronting the authorities, who also seemed to be growing impatient standing and waiting—many of them occasionally glancing at their phones, perhaps seeing the news that, in Durham, North Carolina, protestors had succeeded in toppling a Confederate statue—Jerez and her friends climbed up on a barricade and struck up a conversation with a nearby black cop.
“You understand why we're here, right?” one of the friends asked the cop. He vaguely nodded. She pressed: “So you want to be here?”
“He kind of shrugged and made a face like, Nah, not really,” Jerez recounted, acknowledging that it was his job “to remain neutral.” So Jerez took things into her own hands and started up the chant “'Black over blue, he don't care about you. Black over blue, he doesn't give a f--- about you."
At that point, though, after a mic check, a woman in the crowd made an announcement: “The coward Trump is already in the building—he went in through the back,” she said. Boos rained down in the humid night. To the tune of "Let's go Yankees," the crowd resorted to its favorite chant of the night: “New York hates you." (“Even New Jersey!” someone yelled.)
At 10 p.m. a plainclothes cop told the remaining crowd it was time to disperse; traffic would soon be coming through once again. Evidently safely in Trump Tower, Donald Trump retweeted an article about how it was “game on” if North Korea fired a nuclear missile, then obliviously tweeted: “Feels good to be home after seven months, but the White House is very special, there is no place like it... and the U.S. is really my home!”
Outside on the pavement, Kiera Jerez continued her one-sided discussion with the cop about systematic oppression, and her fear for her future as a black woman. Despite his silence—enforced or otherwise—after giving a clueless Midtown visitor directions, the officer made a point to say goodbye: “Ladies, good luck, be careful. You’re smart girls,” he said to them. He shook their hands and turned to join the other officers as they began to clear the barricades.
Meet the Women Who Made History as the Organizers of the Women's March on Washington: