December 10, 2023

The week the migrant backlash turned into rage

From Gracie Mansion to Staten Island, protests are growing and getting ugly.

From Intelligencer

Photo: Mark Peterson/Redux

Angry neighborhood residents have checked the administration of Mayor Eric Adams at virtually every turn in its attempts to find more space to shelter the ongoing influx of migrants arriving in the city. Now, in the wake of a move to place unhoused migrants in conservative bastions of Staten Island and far southern Brooklyn, City Hall is facing the possibility of a full-scale outer-borough revolt.

In the most high-profile eruption of public anger yet, hundreds of furious protesters flooded a quiet residential street in Staten Island on Monday to demand the closure of a shelter that holds barely two dozen migrants. For two hours, one speaker after another attacked Democratic lawmakers, raised the specter of the supposed threat that migrants might pose to women and children, and shook the cobwebs off the perennial demand for the borough to separate from the rest of the city.

“If you’re not going to do your job, Mr. Mayor, then let Staten Island secede,” Representative Nicole Malliotakis said to raucous applause from the crowd.

The protest came on the heels of an escalating series of combative citywide scenes over the past week as people took to the streets to protest the presence of migrants in their communities. Three arrests were made at a protest on Friday outside the shelter, and a scuffle between an anti-migrant demonstrator and counterprotesters outside Gracie Mansion on Sunday ended in five arrests, including that of Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa.

The dustup outside Gracie Mansion seemed to loom large the next evening in Staten Island, where multiple speakers hailed Sliwa’s actions and the crowd cheered him like a prizefighter.

Protesters gathered near the former St. John Villa Academy, a private Catholic school that closed in 2018 and is now housing migrants. Despite a heavy NYPD presence and a line of metal barriers blocking the street leading to the site of the protest, the demonstrators seemed both anxious and eager to face the phantom threat of an attack by counterprotesters.

As the light dwindled, rumors of enemy infiltration rippled through the crowd, egged on by emcee John Tabacco, a television personality on the right-wing network Newsmax and a Staten Island native who warned that left-wing militants were stalking the crowd disguised as reporters. When a lone heckler did show up to mock the protest, several demonstrators took swings at him until police escorted the man to safety. A few minutes later, another commotion nearly started a stampede.

“It’s antifa!” someone next to me cried.

I headed to the outskirts of the rally to see what was happening, following a group of mostly male protesters and a handful of uniformed NYPD officers. But when we reached the base of the hill, all was quiet with no challengers in sight. Some of the self-appointed defenders seemed deflated.

“I really wanna fight,” one teenage boy said to a friend.

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