Vote 2020: NYC businesses board up amid fears of civil unrest

NEW YORK (WABC) -- All across the country, including in New York City, businesses are boarding up amid the potential of protests and unrest based on the results of the presidential election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Crews worked through the night at Saks to prepare ahead of Election Day, and many remain anxious ahead of the election.

"For those who want to express themselves, the way to do so is peacefully," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The mayor says the city did not advise businesses to board up, but they were asked to move outdoor furniture indoors and clear sidewalk space.

RELATED: Luxury brand businesses board up ahead of election in SoHo

De Blasio says he understands why the steps are necessary, and even he admits that no one knows what to expect.

"We are prepared," he said. "Now I think we shouldn't prejudge. We're going into something we haven't seen before."

NYPD officers have been deployed to all 1,200 polling sites in New York City and officers will be out Tuesday night on the streets despite the absence of planned demonstrations.

Police Commissioner Shea called businesses boarding up "100% precautionary" but added "it's hard to fault them with what we went through and what they see across the country."

Shea said there is "zero information that we are expecting anything like that again."

"Zero information" violent protests are planned, adding there will be "zero tolerance for it"

The NYPD is about 1,800 officers short of where the ranks were last year, and Commissioner Dermot Shea reminded recruits that the eyes of the world are on New York City cops.

"There's a national conversation going on right now about what policing should look like," Shea said. "I would say to you, don't be defensive about it. Embrace it. You are now a part of that history."

2020 Voting: Election Day in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut

Police have been holding tabletop exercises to prepare for potential unrest and shifting hundreds of officers to patrol duties.

"We want to be very careful not to either over-police, because that that could send a signal, or under-police," Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said.

De Blasio said it was too early to predict what would happen, but that the city would be ready.

"We're going to be prepared for a lot of protests, prolonged protests, potentially different protest groups confronting each other," he said. "If anything turns violent, we're going to move to stop that immediately."

Related: 'Vote and get home': COVID-19 pandemic, division lead to Election Day anxiety

Businesses from Macy's flagship store in Herald Square to high-end shops in Manhattan's chic SoHo neighborhood had already covered their windows. Similar scenes played out in Denver and St. Paul, Minnesota, with business owners fearing that Tuesday's election could lead to the sort of unrest that broke out earlier this year.

In downtown Washington, the sounds of hammers and power tools echoed through the streets Monday as workers boarded up dozens of businesses.

Just a short walk from the White House, construction workers were carrying large sheets of plywood. For block after block, most stores had their windows and doors covered. Some kept just a front door open, hoping to attract a little business.
"We have to be ready," said Ali Khan 66, who works at a now-barricaded downtown Washington liquor store where thousands of dollars in merchandise was stolen in June protests. "They smashed the windows and just walked out with everything."

Washington authorities pledged to keep the peace, with police officials saying the entire department would be on the job on Election Day.

"Some people would like to cause mayhem and trouble," Mayor Muriel Bowser said. She also said she had never seen so many businesses being boarded up: "That all saddens me."

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