Hundreds Gather at Washington Square Park — Again

Washington Square Park saw yet another weekend of people flouting safety guidelines, as fears of spreading COVID-19 surge.

Washington Square Park, the day after the second consecutive midnight rave. The continual partying, attended by an unknown mix of students and outside community members, raises questions about the long term chances of NYU staying open. (Staff Photo by Jake Capriotti)

Washington Square Park was the sight of gatherings again, on both Friday and Saturday nights, Sept. 11 and 12. Shaman, an organizer with America’s Peaceful Resolution and Refuse Fascism, told WSN that these so-called “protest parties” were organized and hosted by APR in collaboration with Refuse Fascism, NYC Marchers and Black Advocacy Movement. They aim to implement the People’s Bill of Rights and to empower people to exercise and enforce their first-amendment rights.

“We don’t destroy the system,” Shaman told WSN. “We don’t abolish the system. We reform the system … What we’re doing is gonna end world poverty. We’re gonna have universal basic health care, universal basic income in the People’s Bill of Rights — per person, not just per household.”

Flyers posted to Shaman’s, BAM’s and All Matters Matter’s Instagram accounts advertised live music, beats by DJ Pumpkin, a dance battle, an open mic and arts and crafts. The flyers instructed attendees to “bring a sign stating what matters to you” and to wear a mask. However, as NBC New York and CBS New York reported, there was little mask-wearing, much less social distancing, on either Friday or Saturday night.

Shaman told WSN that volunteers were handing out masks and gloves at the event, and that mask-wearing was encouraged, but not enforced — WSN was unable to independently verify this claim. He explained that people have free will and Washington Square Park is a public space, and therefore that people have the rights to speak freely and to wear — or not wear — a mask.

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“Our message means more than worrying about our masks,” Shaman said. “We die every day on the streets and really get brutalized by police 10 times more than we ever could just by COVID. So we’re not worried about that. That’s not in the forefront of our minds at least.”

The CDC has recommended that people wear masks in public spaces and when near people from other households — especially when social distancing is difficult. Masks are most effective, according to the CDC, when widely employed in public places.

“I get it, like, social distancing, OK,” Shaman said. “We don’t care about that. What we care about is the social inequality that we have right now. I’m not trying to take away capitalism. We’re not trying to bring in communism … We’re mad at the f-cking system. And that’s what we’re doing — fixing the system so that the people don’t have to suffer at the bottom anymore.”

These protest parties come upon the heels of a rave at Washington Square Park on Saturday, Sept. 5. As WSN previously reported, that rave was joined by a protest organized by Refuse Fascism, All Matters Matter, Amend the Constitution and NYC Revolution Club. That night, Shaman told WSN that protesters had marched through Manhattan and found the rave after ending at Washington Square Park. Jamel Mims, an organizer with NYC Revolution Club and Refuse Fascism, told WSN that protesters are health conscious and wear masks.

During a Sept. 8 press conference, Gov. Andrew Cuomo blamed NYU Public Safety and the NYPD for not being “New York tough” and dispersing the Sept. 5 gathering, as WSN previously reported. This time, the NYPD did end the party — but as CBS New York reported, they didn’t end the Friday night party until between 1:30 and 2 a.m., though Washington Square Park closes at 1 a.m.

“Members of the Service will issue reminders and warning[s] when they observe people who do not live in the same household in close proximity to each other without wearing face coverings,” Detective Denise Moroney, a spokesperson for the Deputy Commissioner of Public Information, told WSN in a statement. “The NYPD will not issue summonses or make arrests for infractions related to face coverings absent a crime or other violation being observed.”

The NYPD does not enforce mask-wearing, Moroney wrote.

Shaman told WSN that on Saturday night at around 9:30 p.m., an NYPD officer and he made an agreement to end the party at 1:30 a.m. The NYPD did not respond to requests for comment about their agreement with Shaman.

Tisch sophomore Nina Costello expressed frustration after seeing videos of the crowd on social media. She didn’t know it was a protest party, although she says she heard rumors. Costello is from California and had to abide by the mandatory out-of-state quarantine for two weeks. She fears having to return home due to the spread of COVID-19 caused by the actions of groups flouting mask-wearing and social distancing rules.

“Most NYU people I know are really against things like what happened in WSP and are trying to be as safe as possible,” Costello wrote in an email to WSN. “We definitely don’t want to get sent home or, worse than that, be the source of another outbreak in NYC.”

She also commended NYU for attempting to maintain decorum despite not having direct authority over the park and urged city authorities to take action.

“As far as what NYU should do about it, WSP is a public park and isn’t technically part of NYU, so I don’t think NYU can do much more than what they did last night, which was to warn students the rave was happening and to avoid the park,” she said. “It’s the city’s jurisdiction and I think they should get involved, especially because it’s likely not only NYU students.”

It remains unclear how many NYU students attended the parties, if any attended at all. This time, at least part of the NYU Twitter community was hesitant to blame first-years for the crowds, unlike last time, when some older students initially believed the Sept. 5 rave to have been attended by first-years.

NYU Spokesperson John Beckman re-emphasized that while NYU does not have jurisdiction over Washington Square Park, the university has been closely monitoring the park for potential activities that may help the spread of COVID-19.

“Our observations were that [Washington Square Park] was less crowded and there was less activity this weekend than last weekend, and that City agencies — which have jurisdiction over the park — were more in evidence and were taking steps to address the more unsafe activities,” Beckman told WSN in a statement.

Beckman added that although it’s unclear what fraction of the partiers were students, NYU deployed Public Health Ambassadors to park entrances on Saturday night “to hand out masks and other PPE and to reinforce the messages of safe practices — mask wearing, physical distancing, and avoiding large crowds.” He told WSN of plans to do the same on Sunday night, and highlighted internal measures being taken by the university to enforce safety guidelines within the NYU community. More than 30 NYU students have been suspended for violating said guidelines, he wrote.

“We have been directly messaging our students frequently and repeatedly about our own health rules, the strictness with which we are prepared to enforce them … and the fact that we will apply our rules whether a student is on campus or off campus,” he said. “We have been specifically messaging them about the risk of large crowds and about the unsafe activities that have been occurring on weekend nights in the Park.”

Costello does not think that the NYPD should full-on police Washington Square Park — “especially because the last few months have shown us the NYPD can’t really be trusted to peacefully disperse a crowd,” she said.

The flyers displayed on the Instagram accounts of the “protest party” organizers advertised another protest party on Sunday, Sept. 13. Shaman told WSN that he was not organizing a protest on Sunday, but Friday’s and Saturday’s parties probably won’t be the last. Shaman floated the possibility of “pop-up protest parties” every weekend — or every night, even — where they take the streets. He wants small businesses to set up around Washington Square Park and hand out business cards; to raise awareness for mental health; to give back to the community; to rebuild the economy.

“This is the first of many,” he said. “We’re gonna be bigger, we’re gonna be better, we’re gonna be more effective.”

Meanwhile, Costello just wants the pandemic to be over.

“Seeing people who aren’t taking it seriously and endangering others for the sake of just a party is really frustrating, whether they’re part of NYU or not,” she said. 

Nick Mead contributed reporting for this article.

Email Trace Miller and Aarushi Sharma at [email protected]

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