Obamites: “Yes We Can!” NYPD: “Traffic First”


Jan Gehl and Enrique Penalosa often talk about the important role that public space plays in a healthy, functioning democracy. I was reminded of that last night as joyous Brooklynites took to the streets for spontaneous celebration following Barack Obama’s election victory. This was the scene at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Union Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn last night around 1:15 a.m.


By that time I’m guessing there were about 350 people out there chanting "O-BA-MA" and "Yes We Can!" People were cheering and high-fiving the drivers of horn-honking taxis and garbage trucks. Things were festive, conflict-free and traffic was managing to squeeze its way through the intersection without any real problem. Until….


…the NYPD showed up. In their apparently never-ending quest to keep the city safe for vehicular throughput, the cops seemed intent on turning a peaceful, Park Slopey neighborhood celebration into a mini-riot (likewise, over in Williamsburg). If the goal was to keep the streets clear for traffic, the genius officer, above right, didn’t help matters when he stopped a limo driver in the middle of the street and wrote him a summons. Another officer cranked up his most obnoxious siren and slowly drove his cruiser into the throng in an apparent attempt to push people back on to the sidewalk. This had the effect of dispersing people into the middle of the intersection and putting an angry edge on the crowd. 


Finally, someone at the precinct used his brain and decided to just cork the four intersections around Fifth and Union, diverting the small amount of late night motor traffic around what had become a kind of spontaneous town square. By 1:30 a.m. the neighborhood’s outpouring of democratic fervor was spent and the intersection was once again safe for gypsy cabs and private carting trucks.

  • Great to see people out there celebrating!!! And on November 5th too!! I was going to march on City Hall in my “V for Vendetta” mask, but I’m giving it a miss this year in honour of Obama…

  • benbo

    Same thing happened in williamsburg except that riot police were called in. My friend was arrested for disorderly conduct.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    When drivers do whatever they damn please (e.g.: double-park in bike lanes), they are part of a national wrong-headedness that should be slammed hard at every opportunity. When pedestrians do whatever they damn please, well, power to the people, man. Disrespect for others and their space is disrespectful, no matter what.

  • ms nomer

    Brooklyn Community Board #1 covers Williamsburg. The CB1 public safety committee will next meet Thursday, November 6 at 6:30pm (tomorrow!). Anyone who was wrongfully arrested, or witnessed abusive police behavior, should talk to the committee about it. Speak up at the CB1 general meeting too, on November 12. Elected officials and their reps attend, and they need to hear stuff like this. (See http://www.cb1brooklyn.org for calendar & address.)

    The meeting starts at 6:30pm at the CB1 office in Williamsburg. 435 Graham Avenue, corner Frost Street.

  • Jeffrey, it’s just that public spaces should serve the majority of people in this case the majority were on foot. It’s called using our public spaces effectively.

  • Would employees of the NYPD treat their own neighbors this way? Not if there were a city residency requirement.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Susan, I am all in favor of using public spaces effectively, which is why I support so many of the programs and ideas discussed on Streetsblog that deal with the reallocation of public space. But those programs involve planning and implementation. Disorderly (and potentially unsafe, when you consider how angry some people get behind the wheel) behavior is not acceptable in my mind, whether it’s the commandeering of an intersection or car drivers doing whatever.

    If people believe they were “wrongfully arrested, or witnessed abusive police behavior,” they should contact the Civilan Complaint Review Board (www.nyc.gov/html/ccrb/home.html), not the community board. I often defend community boards on the blog, but don’t see the point of introducing an (advisory) intermediary in this case.

  • Johnny Walker

    But it was 1:30 in the morning!!

    The First Amendment doesn’t give anyone the right to be a rowdy mob.

    Have these self-entitled hipsters not the slightest concern for people who get up at 6am to work (not everyone has a trust fund) or children who have to get up early to go to school?

    I guess not. I guess “it’s all about me”, isn’t it? Damn everyone else.

    If anyone disagrees, please post your phone number and I’ll call you at 4:00 am when you’re sleeping to scream my political feelings into your ear.
    See how you like it.

  • fdr

    It being November 5th, we should put on our V for Vendetta masks and march on City Hall to protest Indispensable Bloomberg and his Indispensable City Council giving themselves a third term.

  • Who let the Grumpy Old Men in???

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Not grumpy, just trying to apply the same standards to everybody. Being a grumpy “old” man, it’s been like a thousand years since college, but what did Nietzsche advise? Something like, “be careful you don’t become what you’re fighting.”

  • spnder

    “If anyone disagrees, please post your phone number and I’ll call you at 4:00 am when you’re sleeping to scream my political feelings into your ear. See how you like it.”

    Wow. Way to lump every generalization into one post, Johnny! That took real talent! You make it seem like this sort of thing happens ALL the time.

    It was once in a lifetime.

    Brighten up and you won’t come off as such an ass.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Johnny, go back to Curbed or wherever you came from with the “self-entitled hipster” idiocy.

    These people were nothing like a “mob,” though, from what I’ve read, the NYPD seemed to be trying their hardest to turn them into one.

    Obama revelers woke up my child who sleeps in a room with windows facing a busy street. My wife too. We all decided that we could live with one night of spontaneous public jubilation over a truly historic event. If you can’t live with it, perhaps you ought to consider moving to Scottsdale, Arizona. I bet it was plenty quiet out there last night.

  • Emily J.

    Why does everyone keep saying it was only “hipsters” celebrating? I was in Prospect Heights and Park Slope last night, and what was most fun about the street celebrations was the diversity of people who came out. The coverage in the NYT, on NY1, and throughout the media confirms that there were huge crowds of all types, all over the city–Harlem, Times Square, UWS, Lower East Side, Fort Greene, Union Square, etc.

    If our public spaces can’t be utilized for spontaneous celebrations surrounding historical political events (which arguably is First Amendment activity anyway), then we live in a city that that does not much resemble the vibrant democracy we think we live in.

  • David L

    Thanks Emily. I ran into the same situation in Times Square around midnight, but in this case there were tens of thousands of people congregating in a non-residential part of town. The NYPD had the same strategy of maintaining the unimpeded flow of traffic. To what end? It was late, and it was a singularly historic moment in our nation’s history. If ever there was a time and a space for the public to spontaneously and safely congregate, shouldn’t it be when a local populace votes 85% in favor of someone – and they win?

    Perhaps we need to get out such dogmatic views on the function of streets and public spaces here? I think Jahn Gehl has a good precedent with his pedestrian priority streets in Copenhagen.

    And besides, the Times Square crowd was largely predictable. The NYPD could have been prepared to both close the space down for pedestrians if need be, while also maintaining a presence that would guarantee the safety and security the public and businesses.

  • Johnny Walker

    I noticed no one has yet volunteered their phone number or address so my friends and I can celebrate in front of your house when you and your children are sleeping. Why am I not surprised?

  • David L


    223 West 20th, between 7th and 8th Avenues, Manhattan. Right in front of the 10th Precinct. I turn my ringer off at night, so that wouldn’t do you any good.

    If you stick around till 7am, I’d recommend Cafe Grumpy (also across the street) for a great cup of joe.

    See you soon!

  • MrManhattan


    You won’t have a similar cause for celebration until a troll is elected president.

    I’ll be sure to e-mail you my number the night that happens.

  • Johnny Walker —

    My address is 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, DC 20500. My number is 1-800-WHITE-HOUSE.

    Be sure to do your celebrating there before Jan. 20, 2009. I’ll be moving out after then.

  • Times Square should be closed to traffic and pedestrianized, anyway. Last night was simply a spontaneous demonstration why.

  • Johnny Walker

    There’s nothing white people love more than feeling oppressed.

  • benbo

    2008 Election Night – Police smash cameras & cell phones

  • Ian Turner

    I’ve been in this kind of “protest” before. The police try to enforce the law (i.e., no standing in the street), people get upset at being told what to do, and the confrontation escalates until a protester does something stupid (I saw someone spit at a cop), at which point arrests take place.

    Videotaping of public officials in the performance of their duties is an important civic right, but that’s not what was happening here: Videotaping someone does not require sticking any device 6″ from their face.

  • Larry Wilson

    Johnny…..got the perfect place for you. 106 W. 145th StreetHarlem, New York come on over!


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