Popular Livestreamer Charged for Inciting a Riot After Chaos in New York’s Union Square

Mimi Nguyen Ly
By Mimi Nguyen Ly
August 4, 2023New York

A crowd that gathered in New York City’s Union Square Park for a social media personality who was holding a giveaway descended into chaos on Friday afternoon, leading to multiple arrests.

Kai Cenat, a popular 21-year-old livestreamer with millions of followers on Twitch, Youtube, and Instagram, who had promoted the giveaway, has been charged two counts of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly by the New York Police Department (NYPD).

What had been announced as a 4 p.m. giveaway in the park turned into chaos and a massive riot, with some clambering on vehicles, hurling chairs, and throwing punches, leaving police struggling to settle the scene.

People were told they’d would be able to win prizes if they correctly answer questions related to streaming. Items they could win include computers and Play Station 5s, as well as related items such as microphones, keyboards, webcams, gaming chairs, headphones, and giftcards.

Aerial TV news footage showed a surging, tightly packed crowd running through the streets, scaling various structures in the park. Some teenagers intimidated traffic, shouting and swinging objects at car windows. A separate crowd pounded on or climbed atop city buses.

Union Square Crowd
A crowd moves through Union Square in New York on Aug. 4, 2023. (WABC-TV via AP)
Union Square Crowd
People jump and kick a car as a crowd runs through the street on Broadway near Union Square in New York on Aug. 4, 2023, in a still from video. (Bobby Calvan/AP Photo)

It was not immediately clear what had sparked the riots. Amid the chaos, police pushed the crowd back with metal barricades. Some officers carried batons and riot shields. Police also used loudspeakers to repeatedly declare the gathering unlawful and order people to disperse.

Among the multiple who were ultimately arrested, most were young men.

Union Square Crowd
New York Police escort a man who was arrested in Union Square in New York on Aug. 4, 2023. (Bobby Calvan/AP Photo)

As part of the police response, surrounding streets were shut down and nearby subway trains were rerouted. Officers had regained control of much of the area by 5:30 p.m., although small skirmishes were still playing out.

Several police officers had bottles, rocks, and other items thrown at them.

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey confirmed at a press conference late Friday that some officers suffered injuries.

He said some people set off fireworks and threw them at police and each other. Others wielded tools from a construction site. Mr. Maddrey told reporters that a 17-year-old was hospitalized from what was thought to be a gunshot wound, turned out to be a firework injury.

Mr. Maddrey confirmed later Friday evening that police arrested at least 65 people, 30 of whom were juveniles.

The police chief mentioned that amid the dwindling unrest that afternoon, police filled a city bus with people arrested. That very bus came under attack by other young people, and more police had to be sent to protect it.

New York Police
New York Police put up barricades in Union Square, New York, on Aug. 4, 2023. (Brooke Lansdale/AP Photo)

Police Remove Livestreamer

Mr. Maddrey told reporters he saw various people bleeding and having asthma and panic attacks. He said that police removed Mr. Cenat in the afternoon “for his safety” and were in contact with him.

The police chief noted that Mr. Cenat hadn’t obtained a permit for the gathering, nor alerted police about it, and it was declared an unlawful assembly.

“We have encountered things like this before but never to this level of dangerousness,” Mr. Maddrey said.

“We’re not against young people having a good time, we’re not against young people gathering,” he added. “But it can’t be to this level where it’s dangerous. A lot of people got hurt today.”

kai cenat
People gather around and cheer for Kai Cenat (C) as members of the NYPD respond to thousands of people gathered for a “giveaway” event announced by the popular Twitch livestreamer in Union Square and the surrounding area in New York City on Aug. 4, 2023. (Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)

Before he was taken away, Mr. Cenat, who was named “Streamer of the Year” in 2022 at the Streamy Awards, had been livestreaming on Twitch from a vehicle as the event began spiraling out of control.

In the video, he showed gift cards he planned to give away. He noted the crowd and police presence and said in the video: “Everybody who’s out there, make sure y’all safe. … We’re not gonna do nothin’ until it’s safe.”

Eventually, he and an entourage got out of the vehicle and hustled through an excited crowd, crossed a street, and went into the park before the stream cut out.

Video from TV news helicopters showed Mr. Cenat in a black SUV at one point, standing with his head through the moon roof, as people mobbed the vehicle. At least one person fell off the car as it drove away.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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