Thousands of people descended on Union Square on Aug. 4 after social media influencer Kai Cenat told his 20 million followers that he was going to be giving away free video games that afternoon.
But the crowd turned rowdy and riot squad police who were called into to restore order eventually arrested 65 people on the scene and Cenat himself was charged later that day. More arrests are expected The NYPD on Aug. 7 that said they are looking for eight people charged with damaging a police cruiser at 838 Broadway. Cenat himself did turn up but gave away no video games and was taken into custody by police. Followers were seen clinging to his Escalade as he drove away. He was eventually taken to the 19th percent on the Upper East Side and booked later in the evening.
Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey told reporters that the mob broke into a construction site in Union Square and damaged area businesses and three objects at the police and into the crowd.
“They began to throw articles that belonged to the construction site: paint cans, bottles, rocks. You had people walking around with shovels, axes, and other tools from the construction trade,” Maddrey said. “Individuals were also lighting fireworks, throwing them towards the police, they were throwing them towards each other.”
“This is the power of social media and the danger of social media,” said Maddrey. “We can’t allow this to happen again.”
Mayor Eric Adams praised the police for “restraint” in a situation that could have turned more violent.
Subway service to Union Square was disrupted as trains skipped the stop. Police in a Tweet early in the afternoon urged citizens to say away from the area. At least one cab driver was rescued by police after his cab was surrounded and numerous cars were vandalized by the mob.
At least three police officers and four civilians were transported to local hospitals with non-serious injuries. At least three police cars and numerous area restaurants were damaged by the mob, according to reports.
Arrestees were put into three buses at the scene and the mob tried to attack the buses as they were pulling away. Police said about half the people arrested were under age teens.
Police had gotten wind that a flash mob was forming and issued a tweet around 1:30 pm after several hundred people were in the area for the giveaway, trying to steer subway riders and car drivers away from the area.
Cenat is a video game player who has 20 million followers on Twitch and You Tube and has a huge following among video playing young teens. “Due to police activity, avoid the area surrounding Union Square Park and use alternate routes. Expect a police presence in the area and residual traffic delays,” read a statement from the official Twitter site of the NYPD trying to discourate the growing crowd. But followers of Ceant began streaming into the area in greater numbers, expecting a 4 pm giveaway of PlayStation consoles and other tech freebies that never materialized.
By 7:30 pm the park had been cleared, sanitation department sweepers were cleaning up the streets and the subway service was back to normal.
Police said that about half the 65 people arrested at the scene (Cenat was arrested later that evening) were underage teens. Twenty-one-year old Cenat was charged with riot, inciting a riot and unlawful assembly and issued a desk appearance ticket. According to the New York Post, his pre-event messages seemed to be appealing largely to minorities to turn out.
“All my New York n-----s, f---ing love you n-----s to death,” he reportedly wrote to his 20 million gamer followers on the social media site Twitch. “But you all n-----s are wild.”
He left the 19th Pct on E. 67th St. where he was booked around midnight on Aug. 4. He is due in court on Aug. 18th, according to the Manhattan DA’s office.
Cenat’s pr firm AMP (which stands for Any Means Possible) has apologized for the unruly behavior of his followers and said it is cooperating with authorities. “We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone that behavior,” according to the statement. “We apologize to all of those impacted. We are fully cooperating with local authorities.”