NEW YORK - New York City Mayor Eric Adams on Saturday suggested that the riot involving thousands of young people that unfolded in Manhattan's Union Square could have been driven by "outside agitators."
Asked about the incident – sparked by what intended to be a PlayStation giveaway organized by Twitch influencer Kai Cenat – during an unrelated press conference, Adams referenced Cenat, noting that the influencer "had a substantial number of followers" and "people came from outside of the city to be there."
"We are further looking into were there even some outside agitators. You don't come to get free Game Boys and bring smoke bombs and bring M80s and bring other disruptive items," Adams said, mentioning a different video gaming system. "We believe there were some outside influencers that may have attempted to aggravate this situation."
Cenat, a 21-year-old social media influencer who boasts more than 13 million followers across platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Twitch, had advertised a giveaway of a PlayStation and other electronics in Union Square. The NYPD said thousands of kids and young people showed up, and the Friday afternoon event produced chaos.
Video that circulated online showed some young people jumping atop vehicles, hurling bottles and throwing punches. Other footage showed crowds chanting vulgar anti-NYPD slogans.
During the news conference, Adams also issued a warning on the negative impact of social media on young people, and spoke to his own experience as the father of a now 27-year-old son.
"It is difficult being a parent now with so much weight and so many obligations they are facing," Adams said. "Our children cannot be raised by social media. Our children cannot get their values, their beliefs from social media and other outside entities. And it's about being aware that the things that my mother needed to raise me is different from the things that parents need today. Our children are being inundated by influencers, by those who consider themselves to be credible messengers."
People gather for a "giveaway" event announced by popular Twitch live streamer Kai Cenat in Union Square and the surrounding area on August 4, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Alexi J. Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
Adams praised the NYPD for how they handled the volatile situation.
"I cannot say enough for the police department yesterday, I don't think people realized the level of discipline that was showed to take a very dangerous, volatile situation and to be able to bring it to a level of resolve without any loss of life or any substantial damage to property, and without young people harming themselves," he added.
At a prior press conference Friday night, NYPD Chief Jeffrey Maddrey said 65 people were arrested, 30 of them juveniles. Speaking to both the power and danger of social media, Maddrey said how the giveaway event, which was not sanctioned or permitted, grew "exponentially, rapidly, fast" from just about 300 attendees to thousands in a short time frame.
"We wanted the kids to just comply with us and leave, but we were met with a lot of resistance. We were attacked," Maddrey said. "My older brother just called and said he saw video of me getting hit in the head with an object. It was a very tough situation out here, and I really have to commend the women and men of this department, the level of restraint they showed in addressing these young people."
Maddrey said young people destroyed NYPD vehicles, including his own, damaged food carts, and grabbed plates from people outside on the street dining and threw them at officers. At least one person, a 17-year-old, was at Bellevue Hospital with injuries determined to be from fireworks debris.
"When you have M80s and heavy-duty explosives being thrown around a crowd of thousands of people you’re talking about a very dangerous chaotic situation. We can’t let this happen here. We can’t let this happen with our young people," Maddrey said.
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 popular Twitch live streamer Kai Cenat in Union Square and the surrounding area on August 4, 2023 in N
"I had thousands of kids out there. I needed thousands of parents out there," he added, thanking the few parents who did show up or call. "We don’t want to do this. We want our young people to come out and gather and have fun, but when it gets to the point when they’re disorderly, we want the parents to come and take control."
Cenat is facing multiple charges, including at least two counts of inciting a riot, unlawful assembly and others, Maddrey said. The influencer was released early Saturday from police custody after being issued a desk appearance ticket, which police issue to require a suspect to appear in court to answer charges.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.