Multiple firsthand accounts and viral tweets said the NYPD used excessive force on people participating in the Queer Liberation March on Sunday, the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising and the final day of New York's planned Pride celebrations.
Two witnesses told BuzzFeed News they saw police running into crowds, using pepper spray, and beating protesters with batons near Washington Square Park — only about a five-minute walk from the historic Stonewall Inn, where the modern LGBTQ civil rights movement began 51 years ago.
And while people weren't sure how things escalated, they said that it was an otherwise peaceful and celebratory gathering.
Protester Eliel Cruz, 29, recalled to BuzzFeed News the moment he realized the tone suddenly changed.
"It was very peaceful, very chill. I didn’t see much police presence. Then I saw 20 cops on bikes and a few cop cars speed up right away, so I walked a little quicker," he said.
He said he headed toward where police officers were raining down on protesters.
"I walked by five or six people on the ground who were pepper-sprayed and were washing their eyes," he said, adding he saw at least 10 people on Sunday who were recovering from being pepper-sprayed.
Marti Gould Cummings, who also witnessed the incident and who attended the march in drag, recalled a similar chain of events.
"I was leaving Washington Square — there was a beautiful rally centering around Black trans women. As we were leaving, we noticed a commotion directly in front of us and realized it was the police," said Cummings, who is running for New York's city council.
"People were chanting 'don’t shoot' and many took a knee. The police escalated and used pepper spray and batons," they added.
Cruz also said he witnessed at least one person get arrested.
"We were demanding the police release the protester, and they started to beat people ... There were more cops running toward the crowds and pushing people," he said.
Cruz said officers began to retreat when a large group of protesters linked arms to create a barricade. He said the police escalation and standoff with protesters lasted about 5 to 10 minutes.
Cummings recorded a selfie video as they were coming out of the confrontation, demanding NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYPD commissioner Dermot Francis Shea answer to "why on the anniversary of Stonewall we are to this day continuing to protest police brutality," adding that "Stonewall was an active resistant against police."
Cummings later told BuzzFeed News they want the city council "to defund the NYPD by at least $1 billion and put that money back into communities most impacted by police brutality." They're also calling on de Blasio to resign.
"If the mayor continues to allow the NYPD to terrorize this city, he must step down."
De Blasio had earlier in the day tweeted about his support for the Black trans activists who have led the LGBTQ movement. His office did not immediately respond to questions about the NYPD's actions at Sunday's march.
When asked about the videos Sunday evening, an NYPD spokesperson told BuzzFeed News they have not "been made aware of" any arrests or force from police on protesters.
"Arrest numbers will be tallied at the conclusion of the event," said Sgt. Mary Frances O’Donnell, an NYPD spokesperson, adding that "the NYPD does not use tear gas."
A spokesperson for the coalition behind the Queer Liberation March told BuzzFeed News they were "horrified" and "furious" to hear about what transpired.
"We are horrified and furious at the brutal police attack on peaceful marchers using pepper spray, violent shoving, and arrests," they said. "At the exact moment that Mayor de Blasio tweeted about honoring Stonewall and the LGBTQIA+ rights movement, the NYPD completely overreacted with unprovoked physical violence — including pepper-spraying their own colleagues."
"The police refuse to say exactly how many were arrested, and refuse to state the reasons for their arrest or their charges. We are concerned that the NYPD will return to Washington Square Park."
Tasneem Nashrulla contributed reporting to this story.