Police make arrests while trying to contain protests

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Police make arrests while trying to contain protests
Anna Wintour at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute benefit gala in New York, May 6, 2024. (Nina Westervelt/The New York Times)

by Madison Malone Kircher, Alex Vadukul and Benjamin Hoffman

NEW YORK, NY.- While stars, celebrities and Anna Wintour ascended the steps at the Met Gala on Monday night, protesters began assembling on the streets just surrounding the museum.

In Central Park, a small group of protesters, accompanied by an American Civil Liberties Union observer in a blue vest, gathered with cardboard signs reading “No Met Gala While Bombs Drop in Gaza” and “No Celebration Without Liberation,” mixed in among signs that mostly dealt directly with the war in the Gaza Strip. Representatives of the group declined to answer questions or say how many protesters they were expecting.

Another larger group made its way along Fifth Avenue, with many participants waving Palestinian flags and chanting “Gaza! Gaza!” as they clapped and banged drums.

The New York Police Department, trying to create space between protesters and the event, assembled barricades at various intersections surrounding the area, but about 6:30 p.m., as the glitz and glamour of the event’s red carpet arrivals were in full swing, police began making arrests just a block away on Madison Avenue, drawing complaints from some protesters that police had worn riot gear while arresting people who were assembling peacefully.

Nearby, Mark Levy, a 19-year-old student at Yeshiva University, stood on the sidewalk draped in an Israeli flag in counterprotest.

There were, however, people in the area who thought the night should be about the Met Gala, and not the protesters on either side of the war.

Among them was Cinthia Andrade, a freshman at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who was cheering the arrival of singer Karol G as she reflected on the rumors that a protest could be nearing the area.

“As a college student, I feel it’s important we should be able speak up, and I support that,” Andrade said. “There have been protests for Palestine at my school, and they have been peaceful.”

But, she added, “I feel a protest here could be dangerous, though. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. This doesn’t feel like the appropriate place to me. This is a place for celebrities to be seen, and that’s fine, too.”

Closer to the gala itself, a young designer named Batoul al-Rashdan staged an impromptu photo shoot with a model to showcase her clothing designs against the backdrop of the event.

Al-Rashdan said she was not worried that protests would interrupt the event.

“The police aren’t going to let them get this far,” she said. “We were barely even able to reach this street.”

The influx of people in the area, and the large police presence — at least one helicopter could be heard circling the area and police were lingering at East 79th Street and Fifth Avenue even after the protesters in that area began to disperse — had commuters jockeying for sidewalk space with both protesters and people there for the Met Gala.

Some passersby along Fifth Avenue were heard referring to the protests as “antisemitic” and “anti-American.”

But like many other protesters, Alice Farley, 73, held her ground on Madison Avenue, carrying a sign that read “Ceasefire Now” with an American flag draped over it. Farley, a performance artist, said she joined protesters earlier in the evening at Hunter College and made her way north with the group.

“I’ve been protesting since I was 10, but this in on another level,” Farley said of recent campus protests at Columbia University and elsewhere, many of which have led to changes in or cancellations of commencement ceremonies.

Showing the wide mix of people in the area, a man wearing a kaffiyeh and riding a Citi Bike paused at the East 82nd Street police barricade and shouted, “Stop sending bombs to kill civilians,” at a group of people craning for a glimpse of the celebrities.

“Let’s go, Knicks,” one of the men in the crowd yelled in response. “That’s not funny,” the biker yelled back.

By about 8:30 p.m., a group of protesters — about 1,000 people according to an NYPD officer — made its way south on Park Avenue, away from the museum, as the sun set. The “No Met Gala While Bombs Drop in Gaza” sign could be seen taped to a pole being raised high above the crowd.

By 10 p.m., streets around the Met were relatively quiet, though police barricades remained in effect. Kirsten Agresta, a harpist who said she played during the evening’s festivities, stood beside one at East 86th Street, with her instrument, waiting for her ride home.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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