Twitch streamer Kai Cenat charged over Union Square riot

A gathering of thousands in Union Square for Kai Cenat's hyped giveaway got wildly out of hand, leading to injuries and arrests.

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Sunday, August 6, 2023
Twitch streamer charged over mayhem in Union Square
A crowd of thousands packed Manhattan's Union Square for Kai Cenat's hyped giveaway that quickly got out of hand Friday afternoon.

UNION SQUARE, Manhattan (WABC) -- In a stunning scene, a crowd of thousands packed Manhattan's Union Square for Kai Cenat's hyped giveaway that quickly got out of hand Friday afternoon with some clambering on vehicles, hurling chairs and throwing punches, injuring police as they struggled to rein in the chaos.

At the height of the riot, shouting teenagers swung objects at car windows, threw paint cans and set off fire extinguishers. Some people climbed on a moving vehicle, falling off as it sped away. Others pounded on or climbed atop city buses.

Police made at least 65 arrests, including 30 juveniles.

Union Square Park was reduced to mayhem and destruction on Friday evening after thousands of people rushed in, lured by the promise of free video game consoles. CeFaan Kim has the details.

The NYPD said Twitch streamer Kai Cenat is facing 3 charges including riot, first degree, causing public injury and damage, which is a felony. He faces 2 misdemeanor charges of inciting a riot and unlawful assembly.

Cenat's team released a statement Saturday saying,

"Yesterday embers of AMP hoped to create a positive experience for fans and give back as a show of appreciation for their support. We've hosted fan meet ups and video shoots in the past, but we've never experienced anything at the scale of what took place yesterday. We recognize that our audience and influence are growing, and with that comes greater responsibility. We are deeply disheartened by the outbreak of disorderly conduct that affected innocent people and businesses, and do not condone that behavior. We apologize to all of those impacted. We are fully cooperating with local authorities."

Cenat has no prior arrests and was issued a desk appearance ticket for the charges, requiring him to report to court at a later date. He was released from custody overnight.

The event was "unpermitted" and "not sanctioned" and grew rapidly to thousands of young people, who NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said attacked officers instead of complying with orders to leave. The chief implored parents to step in.

"I had thousands of kids out there, I needed thousands of parents," Maddrey said. "When it gets to the point where it's disorderly, we want the parents to come and take control."

Three officers suffered injuries during the mayhem, and two were taken to a nearby hospital. One sergeant suffered a broken hand. Four civilians were also injured.

Maddrey said a 17-year-old was hospitalized from what was initially believed to be a gunshot wound, but ended up being a firework injury.

"People were suffering out here," Maddrey said, adding that he saw people bleeding and having asthma and panic attacks. Some motorists were trapped as people climbed on top of their cars.

The gathering in Union Square began after Cenat posted an image on his website and Instagram account promoting a giveaway at 4 p.m. in the park.

People started lining up as early as 1:30 p.m. By 3 p.m., the crowd had swelled to thousands and was getting unruly. Some young people leaving the park said they had come expecting to get a computer for livestreaming or a new PlayStation.

Just before 5 p.m. police had gained the upper hand on the crowd as many people began to disperse.

NYPD sources had told Eyewitness News they did not want to arrest people and they did not want to escalate the situation further.

"It was a lot of people. It was uncontrolled. It took us a while to get it under control, and a lot of young people got hurt," Maddrey said.

To gain the upper hand on the mob, NYPD flooded the scene and pushed the crowd away, making sure they didn't come back toward Union Square.

Upon first arriving over the scene, Eyewitness News reporter Shannon Sohn in Newscopter 7 reported seeing a group of police officers holding up pieces of plywood and taking cover behind cars that were stuck on 14th Street because of the crowd as they were pelted by objects thrown from the mass of people.

Kai Cenat announced the giveaway on his Instagram. CeFaan Kim has the latest from Union Square.

There was construction happening near the 14th Street subway station and people in the crowd had grabbed and were throwing paint cans and other equipment.

"People broke into the park and they began to throw articles that belonged to the construction site," Maddrey said. "Paint cans, bottles, rocks. We had people walking around with shovels, axes."

Several people climbed on top of the gazebo which covers the subway as well as the George Washington Statue, which depicts the former president riding a horse.

Skylark Jones, 19, and a friend came to see Cenat and try to get something from his giveaway.

When they arrived the scene was already packed. Bottles were being thrown. There was a commotion even before Cenat appeared, they said.

"It was a movie," Jones said. Police "came with riot shields, charging at people."

During the height of the chaos, subway trains bypassed Union Square station.

A number of drivers were trapped in their cars as they were surrounded by the crowd and 14th Street was shut down as police set up a barricade of officers.

An Uber driver was caught in the thick of it. He says police officers pulled him to safety through his vehicle's passenger side.

"They said leave everything. Get the hell out of here," Uber driver Dinesh Sharma said. "Otherwise, they're gonna kill someone here today."

RELATED: Who is Kai Cenat?

The sheer number of people and their seeming desire to get a glimpse of Cenat and a group of people with him which created a dangerous situation of masses of people moving and shoving.

A woman who arrived in Union Square on the subway with her baby daughter to run some errands said it was "really hectic." She waited it out, cowering in an ATM lobby.

"I think that this was just completely blown up out of proportion by all of the people here that came to contribute. I understand you're a fan of Kai Cenat, but it's one thing to just come and try to support him. But to come and make a mess of, not just this city, but of just other pedestrians like me that are just trying to get by and go throughout their day. There's no consideration and it's just ridiculous, honestly," she said.

Josh Einiger interviewed a woman who took shelter with her baby inside a bank after mayhem broke out in Union Square.

Livestreaming on Twitch from a vehicle as the event gathered steam, Cenat displayed gift cards he planned to give away. Noting the crowd and police presence, he urged, "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, where Cenat was at the center of a cheering, shoving mob.

Maddrey said Cenat at some point in the afternoon was removed "for his safety" and police were in contact with him.

At one point, an SUV believed to be carrying Cenat drove away from the scene on 17th Street while about a dozen people were hanging on the side and clinging to the top of the vehicle.

Some fell off as the vehicle sped away.

The SUV believed to be carrying Kai Cenat was spotting by NewsCopter 7 whizzing away from Union Square after a social media giveaway sparked mayhem Friday evening.

Shortly after that, a bus on 14th Street became the focus of a large part of the crowd, with some people climbing on top of the bus, as they seemed to believe Cenat was inside.

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

Police officers could be seen taking some people into custody outside the bus and video later showed people inside the bus, apparently handcuffed.

Thousands of people showed up and took over the park and the roads bordering it as police struggled to contain them. Josh Einiger has the latest.

While police worked to set up a barricade, hundreds of people ran away from the scene down Broadway.

An NYPD loudspeaker could be heard instructing people in the crowd to disperse and warning them that if they didn't, they would be arrested.

There was construction happening near the 14th Street subway station and people in the crowd had grabbed and were throwing paint cans and other equipment. CeFaan Kim has the latest.

Businesses adjoining the square closed their doors. Carina Treile, manager of Petite Optique, an eyeglass shop nearby, sheltered inside while police dispersed the crowd.

"Usually with people giving away free stuff, it's never like this. It's very organized," she said. "And here we have a very chaotic scene."

Loud bangs at one point frightened some in the crowd.

"That was a little bit scary, especially when people started running," Treile said.

Police, some with batons, used metal barricades to push the crowd back and loudspeakers to repeatedly declare the gathering unlawful.

"Listen, we're not against young people having a good time, we're not against young people gathering," Maddrey said. "But it can't be to this level where it's dangerous. A lot of people got hurt today."


Some information from The Associated Press


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