A First-hand account of election night on Bedford Avenue
November 4, 2008
It all began with a beer bottle. Two in fact. What started as a joyous, beautiful celebration for the victory of our 44th President, Barack Obama, turned into an ugly nightmare involving New York’s riot police .
After watching Obama’s acceptance speech at the Abbey bar, my Kiwi friends and I headed toward Bedford Ave. for a quick bite and to continue bar-hopping in celebration of the new president elect. The intersection of N. 7th and Bedford Ave. was empty, save for the steady flow of traffic-it seemed a typical night. Until dozens of smiling Obama supporters arrived on the scene, standing around and looking on as if they were expecting something to happen. Suddenly one ecstatic supporter ran into the middle of the street during a red light, jumping and cheering: "Yes we can!" Then joined a dozen joined in, then fifty, then a hundred. Until a crowd of two hundred plus cheered on, ranging from "Yes we can!" to "O-ba-ma!" to "Yes we did!"
It was an unusual spectacle: a mixture that mostly consisted of hipsters, locals and creative types dancing, jumping, cheering, laughing and smiling! I have never seen so many smiling people in one public space; as if it were some weird performance art piece, but all the more incredible and incredibly real. Someone magically produced a bongo drum and there was dancing, people were screaming out the names of all the swing states in unison. There had never been this much joy on Bedford!
An hour or so passed as the crowd size began to grow along with the positive energy that was generated by the exhilarated crowd. Of course, traffic had halted completely for a couple of hours and soon the police were sent in to alleviate this problem. For the most part, the officers were polite and some were even smiling as they helped the stopped cars move through. People were cooperative even as they jostled passing cars, cheering for Obama.
However we knew for certain, the helicopter that had been hovering above us for some time couldn’t have been the evening news. The riot police had been dispatched 45 minutes later and that’s when all the trouble began.
I was in disbelief when I actually saw riot police. I witnessed one take his steel baton and break a beer bottle on the sidewalk (for no apparent reason, except to intimidate the crowd). People looked up in surprised and some exclaimed what he did was unsafe, as a girl tried to push most of the shards toward the edge of the sidewalk with her shoes. A few minutes later, riot police began shoving people around and then proceeded to beat a male participant. That led to at least six people toppling over from the sudden police attack. Then I saw an innocent bystander being pushed back, and fell, his palms landing on the broken glass. I was bewildered by all this police brutality that descended out of nowhere.
People were clearly upset. Nobody was celebrating the victory of Obama’s presidency anymore, but was rather shocked by the ensuing violence. Riot police do not belong on Bedford Ave. Williamsburg is a creative hub of peaceful artists, actors, musicians, filmmakers and designers who are making an impact in the art and design world. Never would I have thought that riot police would go up against people in an environment where individuals have consciously made the world a more beautiful place, while stirring intellectual curiosity.
Police brutality does not belong on Bedford or anywhere else in this world.
After the first wave of beatings, a distressed onlooker from the crowd (who was most likely drunk by this hour) reacted by witlessly tossing over an empty beer bottle in the direction of the riot police. They couldn’t have cared less who flung it over, they walked forward full force, as this action set off a string of 4 to 5 more beat downs.
Most have done nothing, but attempt to move out of path of the NYPD’s swinging batons. Perhaps the drinking had caught up with some of the participants, but people were exercising their right to assemble in a much more vocal manner than the city had anticipated. There was absolutely no excuse for the use of excessive force like the kind I had witnessed.
It was too much for me to digest on a night of such sweeping victory; a victory that led to a peaceful and beautiful celebration of people coming together, believing in change and the future. Yet it ended up with two broken beer bottles and brute police force.
Nevertheless I still believe in the new change for our country–a change for more civilized methods, a change for renewed thoughts. A change far from this fateful night in Williamsburg that stained the sweet victory of election night. Yet what will always last in my mind from that incident was the love that was shared in the victory of Obama and that served as as reflection of our community as a whole searching for love, beauty and peace in this complicated and fragile world.
- by an anonymous participant in the Bedford Ave. celebration