The damage along Broadway was oddly random. At first sight, it seemed as if the stores targeted belonged mostly to big household names – but then you’d see a big name store completely untouched, while a few doors down the glass of some lesser business had been systematically pulverized. In some cases, the vandals seemed to have been content to shatter the windows and move on; in others, the internal riot shutters were bent and twisted, as if the attackers had made a frenzied attempt to reach the merchandise within. It wasn’t hard to guess why someone might have wanted to smash the armored windows of the CitiBank branch, but what did they have against the commercial realtor a few blocks down? And why that one, and not a similar one just up the street?
Those merchants who’d been farsighted enough to board up their windows came off best. Bank of America, surely a prime target, had no more than a hasty ‘ACAB’ scrawled across the plywood covering its front window. The same slogans repeated all up and down the street: ‘FUCK NYPD’, ‘FUCK 12’ ‘NO JUSTICE NO PEACE’, ‘FTP’, ‘ACAB’, ‘NYPD KILLS’, ‘FUCK COPS’. Only occasionally were there innovations: ‘NYPD SUCK MY DICK’ declared a green scribble on the plywood covering up the windows of a shoe store. An Urban Outfitters store moved the anonymous writer to editorialize, with a contemptuous ‘WHITE PEOPLE CLOTHS’ written in black paint across its protective boards.
The street was busy with workmen sweeping up shattered glass or boarding up broken and as-yet-unbroken windows. “We’ll put an eight-foot straight across here,” a crew leader told his team, gesturing to show the orientation he wanted. They worked methodically, efficiently, unimpressed by the scale of the destruction.
Some of the targets – banks – were clearly symbolic. There was nothing to steal, and CitiGroup has enough cash in hand to shrug off a broken window or two. Others seemed to have been targeted just for the sake of doing visible damage. Whoever smashed the windows of L’Occitane and the T2 tea shop hadn't bothered to take much. But a number of clothing and shoe stores seemed to have received the attention of people whose motivations were not primarily political: their display windows had been emptied, and even the internal shutters hadn't managed to protect all their stock. Up and down the street, clusters of coat hangers in the gutters showed where looters had stopped to dump the excess before stuffing their haul into backpacks and bags.
Only one thing seemed to have been set on fire. Outside the Bloomingdales store – its colorful plywood hoardings miraculously untouched – the charred wreck of a police Smart Car squatted in the gutter with the mournful air of a sacrificial victim. A small platoon of photographers hovered around it, all trying to find an angle that would best capture the photogenic destruction without including too many of the inconveniently-intact storefronts around it. Passing drivers slowed or stopped to snap smartphone pictures, triggering an angry chorus of horn blasts from the other vehicles backed up behind them.
Someone had leaned a protest sign against the wreck, its scrawled hashtags – ‘#spreadlove’, ‘#givepeaceachance’ – sending a message rather at odds with the damage. The torso of a mannequin lounged disdainfully in the burned-out driver’s seat, long eyelashes shading her cheeks, a pale green dress pulled down around her white plastic hips. Her naked legs lay a few feet away, high-heeled leather shoes still strapped to her ankles.
As I tried to find my own favorite angle on the scene, a man in a black hoodie and Balenciaga running shoes caught sight of the mannequin’s legs and hurried over. He squatted down and began methodically to unfasten the buckles that held the shoes in place. The leather backpack on his back looked remarkably new, and he clutched a red shopping bag in one hand. COVID-19 may have closed non-essential stores in New York, but there are still bargains to be had on Broadway if you know where to look.