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"Chaos at Barclays." Before Nets' home opener, "Stand with Kyrie" protesters storm arena doors, causing brief closure. Long lines delay ticketholders into Q2.

When I got to the Barclays Center yesterday about 22 minutes before the Brooklyn Nets' home opener was scheduled to begin at 4 pm, there were long lines outside of vaccinated fans waiting patiently to get in--and a vocal protest involving vaccine/mandate opponents converging from a broad political spectrum incorporating BLM (Black Lives Matter) to MAGA (Make America Great Again). 

That protest involved more than a hundred people, some quite loud and rowdy (and unmasked, of course, unnerving some fans), and had mostly--by then--shifted to the pavement off Flatbush Avenue, blocking northbound traffic.

The protest's theme was "Stand with Kyrie" Irving--the Nets' mercurial, unvaccinated superstar, who's been exiled from the team, given the city's vaccination mandate for home teams--though there's no evidence Irving sought or supported the protest. While organizers framed the protest as anti-mandate, much rhetoric was also anti-vaccination and extended to related policy, such as "unmask the children." 

Some protesters, as indie left reporter Talie Jane tweeted, have been involved in protests that even destroyed a COVID testing table, and represent "the new qanon."

Disruption on the plaza, at the doors

I missed, however, how the Plaza Party sponsored by SeatGeek, part of the Countdown to Tip-Off, sponsored by Tissot, announced by the Nets, had already been disrupted. 

While the SeatGeek Plaza featured a basketball court to entice attendees to arrive early, by then, as shown in the New York Post cover above and the tweet below, the system had broken down when some protesters--some with baseball bats in their backpacks--dislodged barricades and stormed the doors. 

Newsday noted protesters "chanted fairly peacefully for approximately 30 minutes. Then, a splinter group of approximately 100 protesters pushed their way toward the building’s main entrance." See thread here, though some observers saw well fewer than 100 people, and others suggested more.

It seemed an genuinely unnerving moment for arena security personnel, squaring off against some protesters, though protest leaders soon conferred with arena security and seemed to promise calm. 

While there were massive amounts of police in the vicinity when I got there, calmly observing the protests, the video shows that security guards, not police, squared off against protesters, with police entering the scene later.

Surely there will be a post-mortem on security, but it seems that arena security did not fully anticipate the protests, or staff the perimeter securely enough. I'm not sure whether the NYPD was slow to react, or whether the arena--mindful of the optics after the plaza was home to protests against police brutality and overpolicing--was hesitant to initially call them in.

(Note: despite much tabloid/TV coverage, there's nothing yet in the New York Times.)

Brief closure, longer delays

“Barclays Center briefly closed its doors today in order to clear protestors from the main doors on the plaza and ensure guests could safely enter the arena," an arena spokesperson later said. "Only ticketed guests were able to enter the building and the game proceeded according to schedule.” 

Well, the game proceeded according to schedule, but a lot of people missed the first quarter and a good part of the second one, in something of a p.r. setback for the arena, given tabloid coverage and "Chaos at Barclays" framing, as seen below. (It didn't help that the Nets, favored for a championship even without Irving, lost their second of three games.)

If the closure, according to Newsday, was just ten minutes, then other factors--the size of the crowd, temporary bottlenecks, COVID protocols, etc.--must have compounded delays.

The delays, as shown at right and below, left lines along Flatbush Avenue extended all the way to Atlantic Avenue, and meant that a line from the Dean Street entrance stretched all the way around Flatbush Avenue, as shown below. There were also long lines along Atlantic Avenue going east from the main entrance.

Who belongs?

The protest put a new gloss on the "We belong here" and "You belong here" neon art installation unveiled just a day before, installed by the Social Justice Fund of the Joe & Clara Tsai Foundation, the couple who own the Brooklyn Nets and New York Liberty, and also the arena operating company. 

In the wake of protests at the arena plaza after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Tsai's Social Justice Fund was established to contribute $50 million over ten years. Its pledge: "Centering Economic Mobility and Racial Justice for BIPOC populations in Brooklyn."

However, this was different, underminding presumed consensus. The much larger 2020 protests could proliferate (and be "totally appropriated," in the words of one organizer) at what I dubbed "Brooklyn's Accidental New Town Square" in part because the arena was shuttered for the pandemic. And when arena activities, such as a playoff game last May, conflicted with a protest, organizers moved it across the street, ceding ground to commerce.

In this case, though, the protesters specifically targeted the arena--and, as shown in the photo at right, eventually blocked northbound traffic on Flatbush Avenue.

Also, rather than that presumed consensus among all people at the plaza (other than with the uniformed cops lining up in front of the arena), this time the protesters and arena attendees (and management) were at odds.

Notably, this protest also included representatives of Black Lives Matter Greater NY (though not the global movement), even as national leaders like retired NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar observe that "speaking up for vaccination is an extension of speaking up for Black Lives Matter."

From NBC coverage
More ironies

I have previously noted the ironies of the art installation in the context of the other advertising, messaging, and branding--all favoring the arena's business interests--around it. (I'll write more about the installation in a separate article.) 

Yesterday's protest signaled the unresolved consensus regarding who belongs and, given the significant publicly, undermined the arena's rhetoric.

Two other ironies surfaced, as noted below.

Also, of course, there's a question about who "belongs" outside, where it's free to enter--at least when not cordoned off for arena business--and inside, where ticket prices for certain events can be prohibitive.

More vidoes I shot

Protesters blocking northbound traffic on Flatbush Avenue.    

The line of ticketholders stretches along Flatbush Avenue all the way to Atlantic Avenue. 

Protesters on plaza near attendees. Note the LED screen is showing game excerpts, late in the first quarter. 

  

Protesters and attendees clash.

The line on the north side of Atlantic Avenue.      

Bike cops gather on Dean Street near Flatbush Avenue.  

An attendee gives the finger to protesters.

Dean St. traffic slowdown near arena and parking garages.  

Later on, around 8:30 pm, the plaza was still mostly cordoned off.  

Comments

  1. When I passed by at 12:23 pm, there were lots of police, but no arena security. Also, I see that Rev. Kevin McCall is quite prominent: https://www.facebook.com/kevinbless.mccall

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous2:55 PM

    Easy solution would be forget transferring building space to Site 5 and just build over the plaza.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not an easy solution for the arena operators, who rely on the plaza for arena operations! My bet is that the developer of the larger project made a promise, implicit or explicit, not to build over the plaza.

      Delete

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