Washington Square Park was uneventful Saturday night, a week after the park and its attendees were thrust into the national spotlight. Last weekend, police — while attempting to enforce a 10 p.m. weekend curfew — pepper-sprayed and arrested dozens of people in and around the famed Greenwich village park.
Residents and park attendees condemned the NYPD’s actions; however, Mayor De Blasio defended the curfew and its enforcement during his weekly WNYC interview on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on Friday morning.
By the end of the day, city officials had rescinded the 10 p.m. curfew.
And despite a growing narrative of its apparent mayhem and danger, the park retained a carnivalesque atmosphere throughout the evening and past midnight. Any tensions with the police took a back seat to enjoying a post-pandemic summer night.
One attendee, Rose, described the park’s vibe as “calm and poppin’.”
“Everybody seems like they’re chilling out, enjoying the nice weather,” she said. “Nobody seems stressed at all.”
People continued to filter in and out of the park throughout the night, while around the central fountain, musicians performed to a large dancing crowd.
And while police were still out in force Saturday night, they remained around the park’s arch. Officers on the scene stated that they were there to protect the monument from graffiti, not to enforce the curfew. In fact, there seemed to be some confusion among the police presence as to what time — or even if — the park would close. One police lieutenant — who did not give his name — said that any decision to close the park was out of the NYPD’s hands and rested solely with the Parks Department.
Police were not the only ones unsure of where the night would lead.
Outside the NYPD’s perimeter fence, activists with the Copwatch Patrol Unit (CPU) gathered, inspired by rumors that the police would again attempt to empty the park forcefully.
Jose LaSalle, the leader of the CPU, said that he decided to come to the park after receiving a tip that police might confront civilians around midnight.
“We’re out here because we got some intel that there is a possibility that at twelve midnight, the [NYPD] is going to enforce the 12 o’clock closing park rule,” LaSalle said. “We’re here to make sure that we document that; I have my cop watchers all around, and we believe that video is very important to show the aggressiveness that they take to just close the park.”
Some watchers recorded the roughly 20 officers assembled under the arch, while others berated and hurled insults towards the police. LaSalle described both types of behavior as a natural reaction to the NYPD’s conduct last week.
“A lot of these police officers, they need an awakening at times [to] make them realize that this is what they’re doing,” LaSalle said. “They’re the ones creating the animosity and this type of hate among the people — Not us; it’s them. If I’m running around being a bully or an asshole to other people, I’m going to get that same disrespect back.”
Yet despite claims that Washington Square Park has become tense and dangerous, Saturday was anticlimactic. 10 p.m. — the original curfew — came and went and midnight also passed without issue or any noticeable fanfare. Instead, people continued to filter in and out of the park throughout the night, while around the central fountain, musicians performed to a large dancing crowd. A group called the WeOutsideCrew was also in attendance throughout the night and helped organize a clothing drive and several volleyball games.
“We want to give people a safe space where they don’t have to spend money and where there is a real sense of community,” said Shaman, the group’s founder. “This is a public space … let people be people.”
Please support independent media today! Now celebrating its 20th anniversary, The Indypendent is still standing but it’s not easy. Make a recurring or one-time donation today or subscribe to our monthly print edition and get every copy sent straight to your home.