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The 2020 Riots in New York City
The 2020 riots in New York City are very complicated events. Too complicated and too controversial to fit into any single news story. Too complicated even to fit into the many writings I’ve already published on the topic. My reporting continues, of course, and I will be publishing more about the riots in the future.
This is an index page meant to chronicle my reporting on the 2020 riots and protests. As I publish more stories about those events, I will update this page with references to my new work. In the mean, read some of the most comprehensive documentation anywhere to-date about what happened:
Published June 7, 2020
My original first-hand account of what happened in Manhattan the night of May 31, 2020. After a day of peaceful protest, a full-blown riot breaks out in and around SoHo, with mass looting happening with no police intervention. The police’s response to the riots were in stark contrast to their response to the protests.
There were fires, brawls, and mass looting. The rioters were a distinct group from the protesters earlier in the day. The rioters did not have a political ideology, but were acting for profit.
Published June 11, 2020
One week after the riots, the NYPD published its weekly crime statistics which offered a first look at what happened during the two nights of riots in Manhattan and the Bronx. Burglary levels spiked dramatically — over 600 burglaries in those two boroughs alone. The data makes clear that the 2020 riots were the largest mass crime event in New York City since the 1977 blackout.
(The original publication included an interactive animated map of burglaries city-wide, but it is not supported by Substack yet. The original map and more maps I am working on will be available in the near future.)
Published April 7, 2021 in The Intercept
This story marks my contributing debut for The Intercept and the start of a three-part series on the unrest, with Alice Speri. This reporting reveals for the first time the internal manuals and training courses for NYPD’s riot squad, the infamous Strategic Response Group, known for brutalizing protesters. The SRG was formed in 2015, early in Mayor Bill de Blasio’s tenure, as a reorganization of the NYPD’s disorder control functions in the wake of Occupy Wall Street. It marked a dramatic departure from the policies formed after the Crown Heights riots of 1991.
The SRG materials are required reading for understanding the NYPD’s failure to respond to the riots revealed in this series’ conclusion.
Published June 1, 2021 in The Intercept
This story marks the one-year anniversary of the events in the Bronx, and the conclusion of The Intercept’s series. Revealed for the first time are the city’s real-time reports on the unrest as it happened. We now know what the city — and mayor — knew and when. On the first night of riots in SoHo, the NYPD did not respond for four hours. And we now know the city defined the riot’s size that night as greater than 90 city blocks.
In addition to the revelations about the city’s inexplicable lack of response, the story examines the tactical failures of the NYPD as illuminated by their SRG manuals and history. It tells the tragic story of Wendy Shen and her family — brutally beaten outside their Bronx store by rioters.
One reason why the NYPD failed so spectacularly during the riots was because lessons learned from the Crown Heights riots of 1991 were forgotten. The SRG training included zero tactics for looting scenarios, despite its predecessor having such tactics defined. The NYPD repeated the failed “fixed post” tactics that were documented in 1991 to have made those riots worse. The NYPD even adopted some of the tactics it used during the 1977 blackout riots. And the mayor lied about the whole thing.
Published July 26, 2021 through July 31 in DocuDrop NYC
This five-part series was a pretense to purge the left over NYPD documents that weren’t published in The Intercept series. The Intercept series was based on thousands of pages of internal NYPD documents — too many to publish there. These documents and commentary range from inoccuous to severe. For scholars of NYPD policy, the publication of the NYPD Use of Force Guide will be of interest. For people looking for an NYPD-centric chronology of the Coronavirus, their “Finest Messages” on the topic will be of use. If you’re looking for heavy-hitting and documented analysis of the ways NYPD has tried to conceal what happened during the riots, the publication and analysis of some of their internal data will be very interesting. (There were even original political cartoons to accompany this series!)
Published December 31, 2021
Data from the Department of Small Business Services provides a rare measure of the impact the riots had on small businesses — particularly small businesses of the Bronx. It also documents emergency grant amounts the city awarded eligeable businesses in compensation for riot damages. The city’s awarded grants fall exponentially short of the reported damages.
Stay tuned for more documentation of the riots. I have a lot of reporting I have yet to publish, and new reporting that I am still undertaking. As the riots of 2020 were one of the most serious historic events in recent city history — events so rare that the NYPD itself took for granted they would never happen again — I will continue my reporting until everything is known. Especially since the mayor who presided over the riots — and lied about them — is now seeking to become governor.
Photo: the flagship Macy’s store on 34th Street, the day after it was looted during the second night of riots. By John Bolger.